Dvorak: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Khachaturian: Violin Concerto. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Teddy Abrams, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Avie AV2411.

It's always a pleasure to welcome a new recording by American virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine (b. 1974). She began her concert career at the age of ten with Erich Leinsdorf and the Chicago Symphony in the mid 1980's and her recording career with the Dorian and Cedille labels in the mid 1990's. It was here with Cedille that I first encountered her and, I'm proud to say, first began reviewing her recordings. She continued making records mostly with Cedille up until just a few years ago when she began working with Avie Records. While today she appears to be recording with both Cedille and Avie, 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 Avie disc is a case in point.

Here, Ms. Barton Pine tackles two giant works of the violin concerto genre, those by Dvorak and Khachaturian, starting the album with the Dvorak. Even though Dvorak's Violin Concerto took its place in the basic classical repertoire long ago, it has never seemed to quite catch on with the public the way those from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and others have caught on. The Dvorak maybe hasn't quite the soaring lines, memorable melodies, and grand Romantic gestures we find in other popular concertos. Still, it offers its fair share of pleasures, which Ms. Barton Pine is eager to share with us.

So, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 53 in 1879, premiering it in 1883. The famous Hungarian violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher Joseph Joachim inspired Dvorak to write the piece, and the composer intended for Joachim to play it. However, as it turned out, Joachim didn't much care for the finished work and never did perform it. Despite the violinist's skepticism, though, Dvorak released the piece, and the rest is history, as they say. Still, I have some lingering doubts myself. Maybe Joachim had something, the music never impressing me as much as it has impressed some others, even in the capable hands of Ms. Barton Pine.

Rachel Barton Pine
Whatever, Dvorak begins the concerto with an Allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too much), the "ma non troppo" marking used in all three movements. The violin enters almost immediately. Joachim may have felt that the orchestra dominated the score, but Dvorak made some revisions before premiering it. Here, with Ms. Barton Pine, there is no question the violin dominates. She asserts her authority on the music from the outset, clearly establishing who is in charge. She handles the primary melody with both power and grace, making it strong yet lyrical and flowing. It's quite rhapsodic and quite lovely.

The slow central section, the Adagio ma non troppo, is the emotional heart of the work. Again, Dvorak's marking indicates he didn't want the soloist or orchestra to take things too slowly, possibly not to make the music too sentimental. The movement became so popular that concert violinists often perform it as a stand-alone item. Be that as it may, in the hands of Ms. Barton Pine it sounds all of a piece with the rest of the concerto, an integral part rather than an artificial add-on. She maintains a good, forward pace (again, not too slow was Dvorak's advice), and invests the music with much inner feeling and joy. And I should add that Maestro Abrams's accompaniment is flawless, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra sounds appropriately rich, lush, and accomplished.

In the Finale Dvorak returns to the radiant, dance-like tunes and Czech folk melodies of the opening movement. Ms. Barton Pine's interpretation is a delight, and along with Perlman (EMI) and Mutter (DG) must now count as one of the best recorded performances of the work available.

Coupled with the Dvorak we find the Violin Concerto of Soviet-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). He wrote it in 1940, and Soviet violinist David Oistrakh premiered it the same year. Apparently, Khachaturian found much influence for the work from the folk music of his native Armenia. It is a surprisingly old-fashioned piece of music for the mid twentieth century, with much rhythm, vitality, and melody, which may explain why it won the Stalin Prize in 1941 from a notoriously conservative body of Soviet judges who at the time were pretty much down on anything sounding even vaguely modern.

Ms. Barton Pine plays the Khachaturian with abandon. It appears she has had plenty of practice in doing so as she says she had an immediate connection with the work, and for a while it was her "go-to concerto for competitions." She brings out all the folk-inspired qualities of the music and invests it with a profusion of color.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Simon Eadon recorded the concertos at RSNO Centre, Glasgow, Scotland in August 2018. The sound is quite good, with the soloist well centered and not too far out in front of the orchestra. Meanwhile, the orchestral detailing is also good, perhaps a tad bright and forward but nothing too objectionable. The dynamic range is wide, and transient impact is more than adequate. What's more, any minor edge in the upper frequencies is more than mitigated by the warmth of the lower midrange and upper bass. I don't think most people will be disappointed in Avie's sound.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, December 28, 2019

5BMF Presents Longleash in "Beethoven Reflections"

Five Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) presents new music piano trio Longleash in their 5BMF debut, performing Beethoven Reflections on Friday, January 10, 2020 at 7:30pm at Flushing Town Hall in Queens and Sunday, January 12, 2020 at 3:00pm at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. The program includes two of Beethoven's celebrated trios – the Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1 No. 3 and Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70 No. 1 "Ghost" – paired with two contemporary responses: John Zorn's Ghosts, and the world premiere of Reiko Füting's free – whereof -– wherefore, co-commissioned by 5BMF and Longleash.

Of the program, Longleash explains, "This concert marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, offering an opportunity to take stock of our current artistic, cultural, and political moment through a consideration of Beethoven as an evolving cultural symbol. In 1970, celebrations of Beethoven's bicentennial were heavily shaped by the political turmoil, cultural upheaval, and tragic injustices of the time. Commissioned responses from that year by composers such as Mauricio Kagel and Karlheinz Stockhausen illustrated the weight of Beethoven's cultural associations. In this new program, we seek to further explore the question of what it means to celebrate Beethoven in an equally tempestuous moment in time."

For complete information, visit http://5bmf.org/longleash/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

CBS Sunday Morning Featured YPC
"CBS Sunday Morning," the national Sunday morning news program, presented a special feature on the Young People's Chorus of New York City and Francisco J. Núñez. Tune in Sundays at 9:00 a.m. or visit cbsnews.com for more info.

YPC was thrilled to be featured on yesterday's CBS Sunday Morning, which treated over five million TV viewers to a six-minute news feature covering the breadth of YPC's programming, along with comments and music from YPC singers.  The report demonstrated not only the impact of the program on the singers, but the joy they continue to spread throughout the holidays and beyond. Watch the full video here: https://ypc.org/cbs-sunday-morning/

--Young People Chorus of New York City

À Cour: Ayres de Cour des Grands Maîtres de la Tragédie Lyrique
Works of Lully, Charpentier, Gallot le Vieux, Lambert, and Mouton. and excerpts from the Divertissement de Chambord, Ballet Royal de Flore, Ballet de Versailles

Mired in decadence and shrouded in subtlety, French court culture found no better expression than the intimate, sensual, and seductively nuanced Air de Cour. Yet, at the apex of the Ancien Régime, Bon–Goût tangles with Sprezzatura, as a Mazarin Italian import and Tuscan peasant's son becomes "Surintendant de la Musique du Roi." The monumental Tragédie Lyrique and the Comédie-Ballet of Jean Baptiste Lully, né Giovanni Battista Lulli, gradually eclipse the Air de Cour, as a glittering age hungry for spectacle swiftly hurdles towards its end.

Join us on a midwinter's evening, as the French-Florentine duo of mezzo-soprano Lila Hajosi and lutenist Giovanni Bellini share a program of exquisite jewels from the rise of the Roi Soleil in the elegant and intimate Ridotto of the townhouse of NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò.

What:
À Cour: Ayres de Cour des Grands Maîtres de la Tragédie Lyrique

Who:
Lila Hajosi, mezzo-soprano & Giovanni Bellini, lute

When:
Saturday, January 18th
6pm

Where:
NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
24 West 12th Street
New York, NY 10011

Tickets:
Go to http://www.salonsanctuary.org
Or call 1 888 718 4253

Ticket prices:
$25/$35

For more information, visit https://www.salonsanctuary.org/

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

New Century Presents "Beethoven in the Presidio"
Music Director Daniel Hope and New Century Chamber Orchestra join the global celebrations of Beethoven's 250th birthday with "Beethoven in the Presidio," a special two-day event at the newly-renovated Presidio Theatre in San Francisco. Recently appointed as the President of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn in Germany, Daniel Hope welcomes Simone Dinnerstein for her second appearance as artist-in-residence and Grammy Award-winning cellist Lynn Harrell for two unique programs.

The first performance, on Friday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m., will highlight all three artists in an intimate evening of chamber masterworks that includes Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 1, No. 1, Cello Sonata No.5 in D Major, Op.102, No.2 and Violin Sonata No.9 in A Major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer." All three artists will then appear as soloists with the orchestra on Saturday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m. for Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C Major, Op. 56 in a program that also features Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21. A special preview performance of the orchestral program will be held at Berkeley's First Congregational Church on Thursday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m.

That same weekend, Daniel Hope and New Century will present a concert entitled "Refuge in Music" on Sunday, January 26 at 3:30 p.m. at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael as part of Music at Kohl Mansion's eight-week residency of "Violins of Hope," a rare collection of restored Holocaust-era string instruments. Performing on a selection of instruments from the collection, New Century will present music by Jewish composers that suffered and perished at the Nazi concentration camp Terezín in a program that also features exclusive footage from Daniel Hope's award-winning 2013 documentary "Refuge in Music: Terezín/Theresienstadt."

Single tickets to "Beethoven in the Presidio" range in price from $30 to $67.50 and are available for purchase through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com, and (415) 392-4400. Ticket purchases to both January 24 and 25 performances are available at a 10% discounted rate. Discounted $15 single tickets are available for students with a valid ID and patrons under 35.

Single tickets to "Refuge in Music" range in price from $30 to $67.50 and are available for purchase through City Box Office: www.cityboxoffice.com and (415) 392-4400. Discounted $15 single tickets are available for students with a valid ID and patrons under 35.

For further information on New Century, please visit www.ncco.org.

--Brenden Guy Media

Celebrate New Year's Eve with American Bach Soloists
Celebrate with ABS on New Year's Eve at 4:00 p.m. in San Francisco's Herbst Theatre.
Tickets start at only $25.

"A Baroque New Year's Eve at the Opera"
Tuesday, December 31, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.
 Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, California

American Bach Soloists • Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
Sarah Coit, mezzo-soprano • Hadleigh Adams, baritone

These two dynamic singers will perform arias and duets from Handel's Agrippina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare, Orlando, and Riccardo I, ré d'Inghilterra, from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, from Rameau's Castor & Pollux and Hippolyte et Aricie, and from Vivaldi's Il Bajazet.
The ABS period-instrument specialists will also perform ballet and dance music from Handel's Ariodante and Marais's Sémélé.

Charge-By-Phone / Information: (415) 392-4400
In Person: City Box Office, 180 Redwood Street, San Francisco.
Online: americanbach.org/NYE

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6 (SACD review)

Marek Janowski, WDR Symphony Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 809.

Can a classical music fan really have too many recordings of the Beethoven Fifth and Sixth Symphonies? They are possibly the most popular pieces of music ever written and have probably been heard by more people over the past two hundred years than anything by Elvis or the Beatles. But, still, more recordings? If you're like me, you no doubt already have a armload of favorites on your shelves: for me it's Kleiber, Reiner, and Bohm in the Fifth; Reiner, Bohm, Walter, Klemperer, and Jochum in the Sixth.

So what's the big draw with this new recording from Marek Janowski and the WDR Symphony Orchestra (the German Radio Orchestra, Cologne) on Pentatone? Well, it's an SACD in stereo and multichannel, for what that's worth to you. Perhaps more important, it's one of the few pairings of these two famous symphonies on a single disc. Fact is, most record companies don't like putting them on one disc because they're popular enough on their own to sell twice as many copies. Moreover, the two symphonies together usually don't fit on a single CD. But Janowski takes them at such a brisk pace, they take up only seventy-three minutes together.

Of course, these quick tempos brings up another question: Should they be played this fast? We all know that Beethoven's own tempo markings using the newfangled metronome of the day are at odds with the traditional way conductors often play Beethoven. Unless the music director is conducting a historically informed performance and/or a period-instruments performance, the tempo choices are customarily personal decisions rather than rigid metronome markings, and these decisions have varied considerably over the years, providing the listener with a wide variety of choices and an even wider variety of favorites. This would discount, too, the fact that some musical scholars mistrust the accuracy of Beethoven's metronome. What I'm saying here is, Janowski's readings are speedy, and you may or may not take to them, especially the pedestrian nature of his "Pastorale."

The pairing of the Fifth and Sixth does make a lot of sense, though. Beethoven himself coupled them, along with other premieres, for a monumental concert in 1808. (What would any music lover of today give to have attended that concert, with the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto, the Choral Fantasy, and others?) They're among the best music ever written. And they make excellent contrasts: the daringly dramatic Fifth and the lyrically pictorial Sixth. So, whatever, it's nice to have them back-to-back.

Marek Janowski
Janowski's rapid pace works best in the Fifth Symphony, which opens the program. He's not as fast as, say, Roger Norrington (EMI, Virgin, Erato) who tried with the London Classical Players to follow Beethoven's metronome markings as scrupulously as possible. Janowski is closer to Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony (RCA), although while Reiner seems thrilling, Janowski seems merely...fast. Now, that's not to say Janowski isn't exciting. His performance just seems more prosaic than Reiner's, despite the similarity of tempos. Those opening knocks of fate, for instance, lose a little something under Janowski when he bangs them out so quickly.

The second-movement Andante works best, although it, too, appears a touch commonplace next to Reiner. Nevertheless, it builds momentum as it moves along, leading nicely into the concluding Scherzo and subsequent finale, which blaze forth appropriately, though not quite memorably. The whole performance struck me as too rigid to be entirely memorable or uplifting.

It's Janowski's handling of the Symphony No. 6, the "Pastorale," though, that bothered me a little. Here, the conductor's penchant for hewing a mite too closely to Beethoven's metronome seems to drain the music of much of its charm. This is most apparent when Janowski continues in the first movement to rigidly conform to unchanging tempos, content to push forward without much contrasting feeling.

Then Janowski throws in an almost shockingly traditional "Scene by the Brook." He takes it smoothly, flowingly, and invests it with something like its old delights. Likewise with the "Merry Gathering of Country Folk," although here I thought the conductor missed something of the movement's humor by doing it up too inflexibly. It's like the old storytelling maxim: Show, don't tell. Janowski spends more time telling and not enough time showing. The notes are all there in the right places, but they convey precious few of Beethoven's picturesque subtleties.

And so it goes. I'd say if you already have favorite recordings of these two popular symphonies, you might just want to hang on to them and perhaps listen to Janowski's readings to confirm your long-held opinions.

Producers Seigwald Butow, Renaud Loranger, and Sebastian Stein and engineer Arnd Coppers recorded the music at Kolner Philharmonie, Germany in September 2018. They recorded the music in hybrid SACD, so the listener can play it in two-channel stereo or multichannel from the SACD layer (using an SACD player) or in two-channel stereo from the CD layer using a regular CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD.

As always with an SACD, there is an enormous dynamic range, so watch your volume knob. The frequency response is a tad aggressive in the lower treble, making things somewhat harsh at times. Deep bass is not particularly prodigious, and the upper bass fails to mitigate the slightly forward quality of the upper regions. Orchestral depth is fine, too, if a bit on the one-dimensional side. Actually, it's a sound that rather complements Janowski's assertive performances. It just doesn't come across quite the way it might live in a concert hall.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, December 21, 2019

George Crumb Festival Features Concerts, Exhibition, Panel

The Music Institue of Chicago presents George Crumb Festival, January 31-February 1 at Nichols Concerto Hall. Concerts, score exhibit, and panel with George Crumb.

The Music Institute of Chicago celebrates Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Crumb, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, with a festival of music, discussion, and exhibition January 31 and February 1 at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Illinois.

Concerts:
Both programs feature Music Institute faculty and special guests. A reception of champagne and chocolates takes place during each performance.

The January 31 program includes Sun and Shadow with mezzo soprano Barbara Ann Martin and pianist Marie Alatalo; Makrokosmos I with pianist Marie Alatalo; Makrokosmos IV for four hands with pianists Louise Chan and Susan Tang; and Makrokosmos III with pianists Louise Chan and Fiona Queen and percussionists John Corkill and Joshua Graham.

The February 1 program includes Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) with flutist Melissa Ngan, cellist Herine Coetzee Koschak, and pianist Katherine Petersen, all members of Fifth House Ensemble, performing on a stage filled with blue lighting; Eine Kleine Mitternacht Musik with pianist Katherine Petersen; Makrokosmos II with pianist Jeffrey Jacob; and Night of the Four Moons with mezzo soprano Barbara Ann Martin, flutist Caroline Pittman, percussionist Joshua Graham, and other musicians to be confirmed, conducted by James Setapen.

Panel discussion:
On February 1 at 5 p.m., a panel discussion on Crumb's life and work—with Crumb himself joining the conversation remotely by video call—will include composer William Neil, Barbara Ann Martin and others  to be announced.

Exhibition:
A multimedia exhibit, including Crumb's artistic and meticulously notated and autographed scores and a multimedia presentation including photos of the composer and video, will be on display at Nichols Concert Hall throughout the festival. Providing materials are Bridge Records, which is issuing an ongoing series of "Complete Crumb" recordings; Barbara Ann Martin; and others.

For more information, visit https://www.musicinst.org/nch

--Jill Chukerman, Music Institute of Chicago

January on PBS: Vienna Philharmonic and The Metropolitan Opera
Great Performances - From Vienna: The New Year's Celebration 2020 and Great Performances at the Met: Manon.

Hosted by Hugh Bonneville and conducted by three-time GRAMMY Award-winner Andris Nelsons, "Great Performances – From Vienna: The New Year's Celebration 2020" premieres Wednesday, January 1, 2020 at 2:30 p.m. with an encore performance at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The broadcast will be available to stream the following day on pbs.org/gperf and the PBS Video app.

Season 14 of "Great Performances at the Met" premieres Sunday, January 5 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) with Massenet's French tale Manon. Soprano Lisette Oropesa stars as Manon, alongside tenor Michael Fabiano as Chevalier des Grieux, and Artur Rucinski (Lescaut), Brett Polegato (de Brétigny), Kwangchul Youn (Comte des Grieux) and Carlo Bosi (Guillot de Morfontaine) round out the cast. Maurizio Benini conducts.

--Elizabeth Boone, WNET

Los Angeles Master Chorale Announces New Board Members
The Los Angeles Master Chorale announced today the appointment of three new members to its Board of Directors: Alex G. Romain, Laura Smolowe and Andrea Williams.

The Board, chaired by Philip A. Swan, provides leadership in carrying out the Master Chorale's mission to share the spectrum of choral music with the widest possible audience. "We are very fortunate to add Alex G. Romain, Laura Smolowe and Andrea Williams to the Master Chorale's Board of Directors," said Swan. "Their extensive backgrounds and areas of expertise will bring indispensable value to the Board, and will help us realize the Master Chorale's vision as we look towards the future."

"We are thrilled to announce the first phase of our leadership expansion with the election of Alex, Andrea and Laura," said Jean Davidson, President & CEO. "These three new board members will bring their unique perspectives on the community that we serve here in LA, and around the world."

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Death of Classical Announces The Crypt Sessions Winter 2020 Performances
Death of Classical is excited to announce a trio of Winter performances of The Crypt Sessions, its acclaimed concert series of chamber music at the Crypt Chapel under the Church of the Intercession in Harlem.

The season begins on January 13 with self-proclaimed "classically trained garage band" string trio Time for Three performing a program entitled "Mavericks." On February 14, harpist Bridget Kibbey will be joined by mandolinist Avi Avital in a special Valentine's Day program - because nothing says "I Love You" like a gothic Crypt Chapel. And then on March 6, the historically-informed performance experts of the Diderot String Quartet, accompanied by the inimitable Harry Bicket on harpsichord, will perform "Journeys," a baroque program of lesser-known gems.

Each performance will begin with a pre-concert reception of wine and cheese, before guests descend to the crypt for the concert. Pianos for The Crypt Sessions are generously provided by Yamaha.

For further information, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/cryptsessions

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Giancarlo Guerrero Brings the NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic to U.S.
This winter, the NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic embarks on a twelve-city US tour with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, Music Director of the Polish orchestra since 2017. This tour is the first time the orchestra has toured the United States since 2012. Throughout the tour, the orchestra will perform works of Polish composers from across generations, including Frederic Chopin, Karol Szymanowski and Witold Lutoslawski, an original patron of the National Forum of Music (NFM) in Wroclaw. Johannes Brahms, a composer with close ties to Wroclaw will also be represented on tour along with other Central European composers Antonin Dvorák and Béla Bartók.

The NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic begins the tour on January 10 in Ft. Myers, FL and goes on to Gainesville (January 11), Daytona Beach (Jan 12) and West Palm Beach, FL (Jan 13-14) performing a Szymanowski Concert Overture or Lutoslawski Symphonic Variations; Dvorák's "New World" Symphony or Brahms's Symphony No. 1 and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 with pianist David Fray, described by Die Welt as the "perfect example of a thinking musician." Polish violinist Janusz Wawrowski joins the tour for the Szymanowski Violin Concerto in a second concert in West Palm Beach also including Lutoslawski Symphonic Variations and Brahms Symphony No. 1. The orchestra performs an all- orchestral program of Lutoslawski, Szymanowski and Dvorák in Greenville, SC on January 19.

In Nashville, Chicago and Carmel, IN, outside Indianapolis (Jan 21-25), Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski joins the Wroclaw Philharmonic for Bartók's Concerto No. 3 in performances that include Szymanowski's Concert Overture, Lutoslawski's Symphonic Variations and Brahms's Symphony No. 1. A key figure in Wroclaw's musical history, Brahms was awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Wroclaw (then Breslau) in 1879. In response to the composer's note of thanks, the city urged him to come to the University to compose for a year. He accepted the invitation and went on to write his Academic Festival Overture for the city of Breslau as a gesture of thanks.

The final leg of the tour will bring the NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic west to Wickenburg near Phoenix, AZ (Jan 29), Orange (Jan 30), Palo Alto (Jan 31) and Rohnert Park, CA (Feb 1) where they perform the Szymanowski concerto with violinist Bomsori Kim, along with the orchestral works of Lutoslawski, Dvorák and Brahms. Bomsori  is a prize-winner of Poland's International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition and is presented on tour with the NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic as part of the country's continued support of this "fierce" (New York Times) talent described by the Violin Channel as "One of the eminent young, rising stars of the international concert stage."

For tour dates and cities, visit https://www.giancarlo-guerrero.com/concerts

--Rebecca Davis PR

"YPC is my happy place..."
"YPC is my happy place. It's a place to be creative...a place to come together." --Olivia, YPC Chorister

When you donate to Young People's Chorus of NYC, you give the gifts of music, community and joy to children who rely on your support to sing with us. This year, YPC impacted a record number of young people through its life-changing program of music education. With your help, even more singers will connect through the power of music in 2020. Please help us reach our fundraising goal of $50,000 before December 31!

Donate now: https://ypc.org/support/donate/

Text the code "HEARYPC" to 44-321 to donate anytime between now and December 31 to help us impact the lives of even more young people. Spreading the word to friends and family and encouraging them to donate can go a long way! Share YPC's story through videos of our amazing choristers. Working together, we can surround our world with beautiful voices.

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

Pianist Benjamin Hochman Performs at New York's 92Y Jan 24
The internationally acclaimed pianist and conductor Benjamin Hochman will be joined by a stellar group of musicians and vocalists at 92nd Street Y's Buttenwieser Hall on Friday January 24, at  8:00 p.m. for two great works of musical storytelling: Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and Janácek's Diary of One Who Disappeared.  This is the second of two concerts Hochman is performing this season - as part of 92Y's "Inflection" Series - that explore the relationship of words and music.

The sublime mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and distinguished tenor William Ferguson will join Hochman in a performance of Leoš Janácek's Diary of One Who Disappeared. (This is the first time Hochman and Cano have performed together.) For Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Hochman will be joined by a true living legend, soprano Lucy Shelton, with an instrumental ensemble featuring Tara Helen O'Connor, flute; Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet; Jennifer Frautschi, violin; and Raman Ramakrishnan, cello.

For complete information, visit https://www.92y.org/event/benjamin-hochman-and-guests

--Kirshbaum Associates Inc.

The Venice Concerts
We are honored and delighted to inaugurate a new partnership with the Scuola di Musica Antica Venezia at Palazzo Grimani in the winter of 2019-2020, in collaboration with the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo and the Polo Museale del Veneto.

As the 400th anniversary year of the great Venetian Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) draws to a close, we commence our Venetian residency with a mini-series in her honor, performed by members of our newly formed ensemble, The Camerata Grimani.

If you find yourself in Venice in the coming weeks, please join us. To find out more about our international collaborations and inquire into the possibility of bespoke early music and art history patron tours, please click here and get in touch: https://www.salonsanctuary.org/ssc-abroad

--Salon/Sanctuary Concerts

The Chieftains: The Long Black Veil (Ultradisc review)

The Chieftains and various guests. Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc II UDCD 762.

It was good to have audiophile companies like Mobile Fidelity around, especially when they were doing their gold-disc thing, along with SACDs and now super-vinyl LPs. Mo-Fi's Ultradisc II gold remastering of the Chieftain's 1995 folk album "The Long Black Veil" was a welcome pleasure when they issued it back in 2004.

First, though, let me repeat a few remarks I made about RCA's original release of the album: Namely, I asked what Sting, Sinead O'Connor, Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Ry Cooder, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones, Mick Jagger, and the Rolling Stones had in common. Well, they were all featured vocalists on this Chieftains disc.

The Chieftains are, of course, the award-winning Irish folk group that play on traditional instruments like the bodhran, uilleann pipes, and tiompan, and come as close to the roots of Irish music as any group alive. Here, they back up some respectable talent in tunes from both sides of the Atlantic.

The most moving are the ballads "Coast of Malabar" with Ry Cooder and "The Foggy Dew" with Sinead O'Connor. The most startling is the title song with Mick Jagger; and, yes, he does still have a singing voice. The most beautifully sung are, again, the two pieces by Sinead O'Connor. The most successful is "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" with Van Morrison, a tune that reached number 71 on the UK singles chart. The best sounding items (there were half a dozen recording locations used) are the ones by Ry Cooder, who has a golden touch with everything he records. The most interesting vocalist is Marianne Faithfull, whose voice had gained a pleasantly distinctive character over the years. The most bizarre but unforgettable track is the one by Tom Jones, a belter, singing the "Tennessee Waltz." (Jones at the time was looking more and more like ex-heavyweight boxing champ Max Baer, a belter himself, so maybe the comparison is apt.) Whatever, any album that has Sting singing in Gaelic and the Chieftains jamming with the Rolling Stones can't be all bad. I've played it again and again over the years, a sure sign of something good.

Here's a track listing for those of you who don't already have the album:
  1. Mo Ghile Mear ("Our Hero") - The Chieftains with Sting
  2. The Long Black Veil - The Chieftains with Mick Jagger
  3. The Foggy Dew - The Chieftains with Sinead O'Connor
  4. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? - The Chieftains with Van Morrision
  5. Changing Your Demeanour - The Chieftains
  6. The Lily of the West - The Chieftains with Mark Knopfler
  7. Coast of Malabar - The Chieftains with Ry Cooder
  8. Dunmore Lassies - The Chieftains with Ry Cooder
  9. Love Is Teasin' - The Chieftains with Marianne Faithfull
10. He Moved Through the Fair - The Chieftains with Sinead O'Connor
11. Ferny Hill - The Chieftains
12. Tennessee Waltz/Tennessee Mazurka - The Chieftains with Tom Jones
13. The Rocky Road to Dublin - The Chieftains with The Rolling Stones

The Chieftains
Now, is it worth paying out the extra money for Mobile Fidelity's gold treatment? Well, is anything worth the money if it's only a little bit better? Things audiophile, be they software or hardware, are a matter of very personal taste, and the fact is, most people can't tell the difference, anyway. So, probably 99% of all the people in the world with stereo systems wouldn't notice anything better or worse about this Mo-Fi remastering any more than they would notice a difference in a JVC XRCD or FIM UHD remastering. Mo-Fi gold discs, like anything audiophile, are for a very discerning (and, one hopes, well-heeled) listener with a reasonably high-quality audio system to appreciate,

Yes, as with every Mo-Fi disc I have listened to in the past forty-odd years (half-speed remastered LP to gold-plated CD's), I did hear a difference for the better (particularly with this gold remaster). Is it the gold that makes the improvement, as all the gold remastering companies have always claimed? I've never been convinced, wondering if a carefully well-engineered remastering itself has probably more to do with the improvements. After all, the folks at JVC XRCD don't use gold plating, and their results are equally impressive.

Be that as it may, this gold remastering does sound better in a side-by-side comparison than the original RCA issue. Using two CD players and switching the discs every song from one player to the other, I kept going back and forth between recordings making instant comparisons. Results: The gold disc was tighter, better focused in every song; the gold disc had a firmer bass line; the gold disc was cleaner; and the gold disc was smoother overall. The differences were most noticeable in the opening track, where in the RCA disc Sting and his accompaniment sounded almost out-of-phase by comparison. Also, in O'Connor's singing where high notes are prevalent, I could hear the difference in clarity and smoothness.

Is the extra money worth the incrementally small improvements? Not my job to say; only to report. But I liked what I heard.

JJP

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

Carollo: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

Also includes a Blu-ray documentary on the making of the symphony, plus a recording of the symphony in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo LPCM. Emma Tring, soprano; Miran Vaupotic, London Symphony Orchestra. Navona Records NV6250.

Although there are over half a dozen recordings of composer John A. Carollo's music in the catalogue, he may not be entirely familiar to you. According to the Society of Composers, "John was born in Torino, Italy and brought to the U.S. by his adoptive parents. When he was in grade school, studying classical piano and singing in the church choir, his musical friends were listening to English folk-rock music, mostly Fairport Convention and The Pentangle. Moving from Oil City, Pennsylvania to San Diego, California, he attended college, taking courses in music and psychology. During this time, John took piano lessons and began composing his first piano works. He graduated from San Diego State University with a Masters Degree in Psychology. Shortly after, he moved to Honolulu, began a full-time mental health career for the State of Hawaii and began taking private composition lessons with Dr. Robert Wehrman. John's first composition under Bob's tutelage was a piano suite in six parts. Following this effort, Robert encouraged John to compose an atonal work entitled Frenetic Unfoldings for Solo Violin. After completing this large work, John focused his energies on compositions which incorporated various instrumentation."

Anyone whose friends enjoyed Pentangle can't be all bad.

For a little background on Carollo's Symphony No. 3, here's what the composer says about his writing it: "It had its beginnings as a song cycle entitled "Awake Humanity to Nature's Beauty!" I took the poetry of William Blake and set it to music. Blake infuses nature into much of his poetry and he has the distinction of being the father of the Romantic Period in art.

"Beginning with an ode to morning, the music transverses the romantic side of human nature until we reach the evening stillness, which often arouses human appetites. Within our daily dialogue, gestures express ideas or meaning in ways that words cannot convey, where body movements speak louder than utterances. Our gestures can be intensely energetic, billed with vibrato and fire, or calm and deliberate with much playfulness and merriment as we live our daily drama of life. It's within this garden of earthly delights that our cravings, quests, and seductions, where a person whose affection or favor has been son, take on significance and form. The third movement conveys a romantic adventure, while the four satisfies the yearning for human bonding as we indulge in our romantic affairs."

OK. So, the symphony begins quietly, perhaps with the predawn, and then introduces a big splash of color at the break of dawn. These opening moments are reminiscent of much English pastoral music in setting a bucolic tone, but the music soon develops its own spirit as it becomes more animated.

Miran Vaupotic
The second movement is called "Gestural Rituals," where the composer mentions "intensely energetic" gestures, drama and merriment. Again, we get a series of tonal impressions, from lightweight to severe, sometimes seeming to lean to the fragmented side. If this is, indeed, a musical picture of our daily life, then I suppose, yeah, we all go through a succession of stages throughout the day. I liked the bright, lyrical passages, interspersed as they are with heavier, ponderous sections. Sounds about the way we all get along with one another.

For the slow, third movement, Carollo captions it "In the Garden of Earthly Delight," in homage to both William Blake and, especially, painter Hieronymus Bosch. As we would anticipate from such antecedents, the music, supplemented by a wordless soprano, is episodic, lyrical and frenetic by turns. Carollo calls it "a romantic adventure," which is putting it mildly.

The final movement, "Let the Evening Stillness Arouse," brings us to the end of our day, and just as Carollo began the work, he concludes it with a note of quiet reserve. While I believe the composer expects us to sense a degree of sexual tension in this last chapter--arousal as the title suggests--it ends rather, uh, anticlimactically.

Nevertheless, it's still fun following the various moods, motions, signals, and expressions of modern humankind as we toil through our everyday lives, trying to find some meaning in all of it. As with so much modern music, it's all about expressing different thoughts to different listeners, and surely that's a good thing. And it's all particularly well performed by Maestro Miran Vaupotic and the London Symphony Orchestra, who have always been a good, quick read.

Quibbles? Although it's nice to find new music that's interesting, accessible, and reasonably enjoyable, Carollo's symphony doesn't offer one much time to enjoy it. Yes, the Navona package offers a second disc, but it's mainly more of the same. The CD of the symphony itself is less than thirty minutes long, which seems rather short measure. I know it must be expensive recording with the LSO, but even some short solo works by Carollo might have helped fill out the disc, while at the same time providing an even wider look at the man's output. But, as I say, I quibble.

Executive producer Bob Lord and engineers Brad Michel and Chris Barrett recorded the symphony at Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London in April 2019. The package includes two discs: one a regular two-channel CD and the other a Blu-ray disc containing a mini-documentary on the making of the music and a recording of the symphony in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo LPCM. I listened to the regular two-channel CD, as my surround-sound home theater is in another room, with speakers inferior to those in my main music listening area.

There is good separation of instruments involved, with a warm, effulgent bloom radiating through the more massed passages. Orchestral depth is a tad lacking, and inner transparency can become a bit muddied at times, but it is not unlike what one might expect to hear from an actual concert performance.

Finally, and speaking of two discs, Navona have packaged them in a single, fold-over cardboard container with pockets in each side. This proved difficult to get the discs out without my getting my fingers all over them, always a problem with these kinds of packages but made doubly so by having to deal with two discs. I understand the cost efficiency of the arrangement, but not, unfortunately, the inconvenience to the listener.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, December 14, 2019

JACK Quartet Presents Inaugural JACK Frontiers Festival

On December 17 and 18, 2019, the JACK Quartet will kick off the inaugural season of JACK Frontiers at The New School's John L. Tishman Auditorium. Performances will feature recently-commissioned works from composer-collaborators Lester St. Louis, Clara Iannotta, Tyshawn Sorey, and Catherine Lamb.

JACK Frontiers is a vehicle for the JACK Quartet to bring distinctive voices, that challenge the norms of concert music, into conversation with audiences. Crafted through years of close collaborative relationships and designed to bring new perspectives into the spotlight, Frontiers introduces dynamic creators to the JACK community and expands the notion of what a string quartet can be.

JACK Frontiers is made possible with the generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, American Composers Forum, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Chamber Music America, the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation, and The New School, where the quartet is in residence at the Mannes School of Music.

John L. Tishman Auditorium
University Center, The New School
63 5th Ave, New York, NY 10003

For complete information, visit https://jackquartet.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Eun Sun Kim Appointed Music Director of San Francisco Opera
Eun Sun Kim has been appointed the Caroline H. Hume Music Director of San Francisco Opera (SFO), effective August 1, 2021. The appointment was announced by SFO General Director Matthew Shilvock at the War Memorial Opera House.

Ms. Kim will become the fourth music director in the history of San Francisco Opera, leading the orchestra, chorus, and music staff, and working with General Director Matthew Shilvock; Managing Director: Artistic Gregory Henkel; and other members of the Company on repertoire and casting. She will be a key member of the creative leadership, helping to shape the artistic direction of the Company's second century, working closely with the young artist programs, and bringing great opera to Bay Area audiences.

The announcement comes after an inclusive search process led by Mr. Shilvock and Mr. Henkel in which feedback was invited and shared from all parts of the organization.

Effective immediately, Ms. Kim is Music Director Designate, in which role she will participate in the planning of future seasons and in orchestral auditions. She will conduct the Company's new production of Beethoven's Fidelio that will be a part of the opening weekend of the 2020–21 season. Complete information about San Francisco Opera's 2020–21 season will be announced in January.

As Music Director, she will conduct up to four productions in each season of her initial five-year contract, in addition to conducting concerts, working with San Francisco Opera's resident artist Adler Fellows, and participating in the executive leadership of the organization.

For more information, visit sfopera.com

--Beth Stewart, Verismo Communications

Miller Theatre Announces the Winter 2020 Edition of Its Free Pop-Up Concerts
Whether it is one's first visit to Miller Theatre or fiftieth, the free and fun Pop-Up Concerts provide the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with today's most exciting new music. Sit onstage and enjoy a free drink during these hour-long weeknight concerts, and mingle with the musicians and fellow concertgoers after the show. Onstage seating is first-come, first-served. All concerts start at 6 p.m. and doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, January 21
Lauren Cauley, violin
The spellbinding violinist Lauren Cauley is no stranger to Miller audiences; she is a celebrated member of many ensembles, including the Mivos Quartet and Ensemble Signal. Here, she gets the spotlight, in an adventurous program of recent works for solo violin that shows the breadth of sonic potential of her instrument.

Tuesday, February 25
Austin Wulliman & Conrad Tao
Austin Wulliman, violin; Conrad Tao, piano
Austin Wulliman, violinist of the JACK Quartet, has been praised as both a chamber musician and soloist. The "gifted, adventuresome violinist" (Chicago Tribune) demonstrates his talents in both categories in this Pop-Up, collaborating with pianist Conrad Tao, called "one of the most compelling voices in classical music" (The Baltimore Sun). Don't miss this star-studded evening featuring recent works, including four world premieres.

Tuesday,  March 31
Brandee Younger & Dezron Douglas
Brandee Younger, harp; Dezron Douglas, bass
The duo of harp and bass may be an uncommon combination, but this particular duo makes one wish it was a regular occurrence. Genre-defying harpist Brandee Younger—who recently opened Miller's Jazz series—and the in-demand bassist Dezron Douglas come together for an incredible evening of inspired jazz works.

Tuesday, April 14
The Hands Free
James Moore, guitar & banjo; Caroline Shaw, violin
Eleonore Oppenheim, bass; Nathan Koci, accordion
The Hands Free is an acoustic quartet that creates "a beautifully eclectic mix of sounds that depict an immense variety of places and emotions—all while maintaining the warmth and spontaneity of an impromptu jam session" (Second Inversion). Making their Miller debut, the group features four unique and imaginative composer/performers.

Miller Theater
Columbia University, NYC

For more information, visit https://www.millertheatre.com/visit

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Tulsa Opera Announces 2020–21 Season
General Director Ken McConnell and Artistic Director Tobias Picker today announced Tulsa Opera's 73rd season comprising Verdi's Rigoletto; Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice in a new production with dance; and Mr. Picker and librettist Aryeh Lev Stollman's new opera Awakenings, based on the book by Oliver Sacks and directed by Tulsa native James Robinson.

Mr. McConnell said:
"We are very much looking forward to the coming season, which includes operas spanning nearly three centuries. From an 18th-century adaptation of opera's oldest tale, to Verdi's first masterpiece, to a brand-new opera by Tulsa Opera's Artistic Director Tobias Picker, there is truly something for everyone. We hope that through this variety of programming and the formidable talents of our guest artists, we are able to strengthen even further the community's great love for opera."

For complete information, visit tulsaopera.com

--Shuman Associates PR

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Presents Vadim Gluzman at Carnegie Hall
On Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 7:00pm, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra returns to Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall to present a program celebrating the changing of the seasons. Artistic Partner Jessie Montgomery and composer Jannina Norpoth's brand new reimagining of Tchaikovsky's endearing collection of piano miniatures, The Seasons, adds to the slim collection of Romantic repertoire for small orchestra. Frequent Orpheus collaborator, violinist Vadim Gluzman, returns to perform Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

Of the performance, Gluzman says "What challenges and excites me the most today about performing Vivaldi's Seasons, is combining the vast knowledge and understanding of the baroque period performance practice with the energy and excitement of the modern world. Using baroque bow for clarity of phrasing, elegance and crispness of sound, yet at the same time projecting emotions that speak to all of us today. Vivaldi is timeless and universal in his appeal and it is an incredible inspiration and privilege to be bringing his music to life at Carnegie Hall!"

Single tickets start at $25 and can be purchased now at carnegiehall.org, by calling CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800, or visiting the Carnegie Hall Box Office located at 57th Street and 7th Avenue in NYC. Orpheus subscriptions start at $59 and are available at orpheusnyc.org or by calling (212) 896-1704.

For more information, visit https://www.carnegiehall.org/en/calendar/2020/01/25/orpheus-chamber-orchestra-0700pm

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

The Moment a Child Finds a Home at YPC, She Becomes a Young Artist
Our children come to sing, they stay for artistry and friendship, and they go on to create a better tomorrow. At the heart of Young People's Chorus are young people from all over New York City who come together to create beautiful music and meaningful connections. Together they feel the magic and joy of singing. YPC encourages each and every child to flourish, supporting them in finding their voices as artists and human beings.

Please make a gift to YPC this holiday season. Whether you can give $10 or $10,000, you are changing a life. And, between now and December 31, a generous donor is matching all new and increased gifts!

Donate Now:
We are already half way to our goal of $50,000 by December 31: https://ypc.org/support/donate/

Text-to-Give:
Text the code "HEARYPC" to 44-321 to donate anytime between now and December 31 to help us impact the lives of even more young people.

Surround Sound:
Spreading the word to friends and family and encouraging them to donate can go a long way! Share YPC's story through videos of our amazing choristers. Working together, we can surround our world with beautiful voices.

Watch and hear "Heart of Tomorrow": https://ypc.org/heartomorrow/

--Young People's Chorus of New York City

Michael Tilson Thomas Celebrated at Kennedy Center
This past Sunday, newly awarded Kennedy Center Honoree Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) was celebrated in a special tribute presentation at the 42nd annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala. The tribute included a performance by more than 40 alumni of the New World Symphony, America's Orchestral Academy (NWS), which MTT co-founded 32 years ago as a training ground for the next generation of classical musicians.

Conducted by NWS alumnus and Louisville Orchestra Music Director Teddy Abrams, the alumni musicians paid tribute to MTT's wide-ranging artistry, performing a program that celebrated his acclaimed interpretations of modern masters, his advocacy for American music, and his own work as a composer. Joining the orchestra in performance were MTT's longtime friends and collaborators Audra McDonald and Yuja Wang, as well as Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who recently collaborated with MTT as part of Metallica and San Francisco Symphony's S&M2 concert. Spoken tributes were also given by Mr. Ulrich and actress Debra Winger.

The gala will be televised on CBS on Sunday, December 15, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

--John Hamby, Shuman Associates

On Controlling Volume…

By Bryan Geyer

The preamplifier has served as a standard link in the audio chain since the dawn of hi-fi. The title doubtless derives from its essential function: To amplify (and equalize, when a phono cartridge input is involved) the incoming low level source signals, and boost them to full line level amplitude prior to driving the power amplifier. The preamp also serves to manage source selection, volume control, and, traditionally, lossy tone controls*. Further, all functions must be achieved consistent with proper source loading, and should provide good output isolation, i.e.: present low Zout relative to the load impedance.

Times change. Your present source signals are likely to already be at full “line level”, and most of them can already drive the power amplifier to full output directly, without further amplification.** Injecting more boost from the preamp’s line level gain stage (generally +8dB to +12dB, sometimes as much as +20dB) will simply force the user to push the volume control down near the 9 o’clock arc, a position where the attenuation taper is cramped, calibration is compromised, and stereo tracking is inherently poor. In this event, you’d do well to entirely bypass the preamplifier’s traditional line level gain.

Although there might be no need to amplify any incoming line level signals, it’s still necessary to provide for source selection and volume management, and to do both in a manner that assures proper source loading and good output isolation. With due care, and by imposing just one reasonable restriction (explained below), that challenge can be entirely satisfied by purely passive means, without resorting to any active circuitry. The consequent solution is normally named a “passive preamp”. It might be more accurate to call such box the main controller.

The main controller is a good place to get fussy. The input selector and the master volume attenuator represent the sole tactile link between your fingers and your auditory perception, so those parts merit top quality. Ditto the requisite input/output connector jacks. The main controller is also the part of your system that you’ll manipulate the most, so it should be prominently placed and readily accessible. Compact size will prove helpful, so consider the advantage implicit with the use of RCA-type in/out jacks. By using RCA jacks you can mount four full stereo channels (L/R inputs x 4 + main L/R outputs = 10 jacks total) on a tidy 2 inch by 6 inch panel (see photo), whereas XLR connectors are too massive for more than two channels. Given normal home environs, the use of XLR connectors here would not confer the slightest noise advantage. That fact is further assured by limiting the permissible output connection cable length to 1 meter maximum, a minor concession that reflects the above noted passive design constraint. This length limit is actually imposed to assure that there’s no significant (-0.3dB) 20kHz rolloff arising from shunt cable capacitance when a passive 10kΩ or 20kΩ log-taper volume attenuator is positioned at its worst case (highest) Zout setting.

A value of 10kΩ to 20kΩ for the master volume attenuator is sufficiently high to provide a Zin that’s fully compatible with any known solid-state source component. The latter typically exhibit a low Zout, on the order of ~ 50-150 Ohms. Conversely, a 10kΩ or 20kΩ load would not be suitable for a vacuum tube source component. The typical cathode-follower output stage of a tube-type source will exhibit a much higher Zout, hence need materially higher load impedance, i.e. ~ 50kΩ. And a passive 50kΩ attenuator would then require active circuitry to provide a tolerable (low) Zout—so forget about using a tube circuit as a source component.

In order to maintain good calibration accuracy, the loading on a 10kΩ or 20kΩ volume attenuator should be on the order of some 5X to 10X the attenuator’s worst case (highest) Zout setting. That Zout is, respectively, 2.5kΩ and 5kΩ. Both values are then fully compatible with the typical input impedance of most solid-state power amplifiers, where Zin is generally ≥ 30kΩ. The potential error is even less when an active external crossover controller is the load, as Zin is then on the order of some 75kΩ to 100kΩ. Check the specified Zin of your own equipment to be sure that it presents a similar value.

There are a great many different commercially available passive preamp designs on the market, at prices ranging from $49.50 to insanity (~ $8k), with a very wide variety of means (some quite bizarre) applied to set the volume level. My personal choice is Goldpoint’s model SA4, as made by Goldpoint Level Controls, of Sunnyvale, CA. Refer http://www.goldpt.com/index.html.

The price (order direct, on-line) for a Goldpoint SA4 is $532 + tax and shipping. That expense may seem steep, given the functional simplicity involved, but the general level of excellence, choice of components, and the craftsmanship applied justifies the maker’s tag. It’s an elegant product. The standard Goldpoint SA4 provides four stereo input channels, utilizing RCA jacks. (There’s also a two channel stereo XLR version if you insist on adhering to those bigger input jacks.) The volume attenuator consists of a premium quality Elma 24 position double-deck switch, with 23 laser-trimmed ±0.5% thin film nichrome low noise resistors per channel.*** See the SA4 product page at http://www.goldpt.com/sa4.html. Also, take the time to read the informative section about stepped attenuators versus conventional volume control potentiometers…https://goldpt.com/compare.html. (It’s way down at the bottom of that page.)

It’s a distinct pleasure to utilize a fully calibrated stepped attenuator to control the output volume. The design accurately exhibits exact incremental gain steps, with closely matched stereo channel tracking and the visual ability to precisely reset a given reference level. Even the very best of the continuously variable rotary controls is crude and sloppy in comparison with this stepped switch.

I recommend Goldpoint’s basic 24 position stepped attenuator, rather than their newer 47 position option. The former is basically a 2dB/step attenuator, with the last 28dB of cut compressed into a tapered 5 step descent as you approach the fully-off position. The net result is 62dB of total attenuation, most of it accessed in gentle -2dB steps progressing from the fully-on position. This design is ideal. In the past 7 years of using my own Goldpoint SA4 (with 24 position attenuator) I have never wished for a control with finer resolution. I find 2dB/step to be quite perfect. The mechanics are equally excellent. The switch mechanism is quiet and reliable, and the rotation is very smooth, optimally damped.

BG (December 3, 2019)

*Tonal adjustments are best accomplished by utilizing a separate external active crossover control unit that directly loads the preamp and feeds the ensuing power amplifiers. Active crossover controls facilitate variable selection of the desired low pass-to-high pass crossover frequency, with adjustable damping and adjustable boost/cut of the independent low/high passbands. This provides a cleaner, more precise, and more logically managed means of altering the tonal nuance of the system than previously possible with traditional tone control filtration.

**Do confirm that you can drive your system to full output directly, without the need for supplementary preamp gain. In most cases this will be true, but exceptions happen; it’s dependent on your power amplifier’s internal voltage gain and on loudspeaker efficiency. Power amplifiers exhibit different internal voltage gains. Most designs range between +23dB and +29dB; refer spec. sheet, see “input sensitivity” (or equivalent term). Power amplifiers with gain = +29dB (e.g.: 1 Vrms input produces 100 Watts output [28.28 Vrms] across an 8Ω load) are inherently capable of reaching their full rated output capability when driven by virtually any modern line level program source. Power amplifiers with internal gain ≤ +24dB fall into an area that I consider marginal for use with a passive preamp when driving low efficiency mini-monitor speakers. Try to stick with amplifiers that provide ≥ +26dB gain.

***If you’re a compulsive DIY perfectionist (me), you might consider buying a naked attenuator (no resistors) switch from Goldpoint that’s made for axial lead resistors, and rig your own attenuator.† That entails some careful work, and some fussy ordering. Why would anyone do this? Well, you might want a different attenuator value. (I wanted a 20kΩ attenuator. Goldpoint’s nearest standard is 25kΩ.) Also, you might want resistors with a ±0.1% tolerance, whereas Goldpoint trims their surface-mounted nichrome resistors to ±0.5%. If you chose to run this DIY route…
(a) Contact Goldpoint for guidance on the discrete resistor values needed for your custom attenuator; they have a programmed “app” for their 24 position model.
(b) Order your resistors on-line from DigiKey. Specify TE Connectivity (brand), 1/4 Watt, axial lead, metal film (low noise), ±0.1% tolerance, with thermal coefficient 15ppm.

†Use Kester “type 44” solder (Sn63/Pb37), 0.025 inch Ø (22 AWG) size, and a small conical soldering tip with good lighting + some magnification. Keep a nearby fan going to disperse the leaded solder fumes. (Do not consider a lead-free solder.) DigiKey might need several months to deliver all of the special ±0.1% values that you want, but they’ll keep you informed, and will eventually deliver every value, so don’t compromise. Your reward lies in the knowledge that your DIY calibrated attenuator exhibits exceptional accuracy.

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 (SACD review)

Osmo Vanska, Minnesota Orchestra. BIS BIS-2346 SACD.

"Wouldn't you just die without Mahler?" --Educating Rita

I've used that quote a number of times because of both its appropriateness (Mahler is a great composer) and its inappropriateness (the world does not hang of one's appreciation of Mahler's music). In fact, Mahler's unique traits are so obvious throughout his music that his nine (or ten or eleven) symphonies might just as well be considered a single, monumental work, something Mahler probably intended, anyway. Some years ago I hadn't played but about two seconds of a Mahler symphony before my wife yelled from another room, "Mahler!" Indeed. "How did you know from only a couple of notes?" I asked. "I'd know his style anywhere," she answered.

So, as you know, Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) premiered his Symphony No. 1 in D major in 1889, called it a five-movement symphonic poem, and temporarily gave it the subtitle "Titan." It was not long after, however, that he revised it to the familiar four-movement piece we know today, dropping the "Titan" business altogether. That's what we have here in this new SACD recording from Maestro Osmo Vanska and his Minnesota Orchestra.

I don't think it was coincidental that Mahler's symphonies became especially popular in the mid-to-late 1950's, the beginning of the stereo age. I'm guessing it was because with their scoring for large orchestras, their soaring melodies, their enormous impact, and their multitude of dramatic contrasts, the symphonies make a spectacular listening experience, and the experience became a perfect way for audiophiles to show off their newfangled stereo systems. In addition, his First and Fourth are among Mahler's shortest symphonies, making them a good length for home listening.

Anyway, in his Symphony No. 1 Mahler explained he was trying to describe his protagonist (maybe himself) facing life, beginning with the lighter moments of youth and proceeding to the darker years of maturity. In the first movement, then, "Spring without End," we see Mahler's young hero as a part of the symbolic stirring of Nature before a long spring.

Osmo Vanska
Under Vanska's direction, the coming of spring begins very quietly, in part because it's a quiet spring day and in part because the conductor wants shortly to open up the movement to a wide dynamic range. He succeeds on both counts. Some listeners may find Vanska's direction a little too leisurely, too relaxed, and lacking in spark. But the sparks do fly when needed; otherwise, the conductor is more concerned with atmosphere than setting the world on fire. Remember, in this symphony Mahler intended a specific agenda, making the work kind of set of interconnected tone poems, much like Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony. Vanska does as good a job as anyone in helping us to see and understand Mahler's intentions.

In the second-movement scherzo, "With Full Sail," we find Mahler in one of his mock-sentimental moods, displaying an exuberance that he probably meant as ironic. Whatever, Maestro Vanska plays up the more lyrical qualities of an unhurried stroll in the woods rather than the full exhilaration of the moment.

In the third movement we get an intentionally awkward funeral march depicting a hunter's fairy-tale burial, which comes off as a typical Mahler parody. It might represent the hero's first glimpse of death or maybe Mahler's own recollection of a youthful encounter with the death of a loved one (his brother died a decade earlier). With Mahler, who knows. The movement has long been one of the composer's most controversial, and audiences still debate just what he was up to. Whatever, Vanska's treatment of it seems more straightforward, more seriously solemn, than most interpretations I've heard. Maybe that's as it should be.

Then, in the finale, Mahler breaks the reverie and conveys the panic "of a deeply wounded heart," as his central figure faces the suffering of life and fate. Still, because Mahler was a spiritual optimist, he wanted Man to triumph in the end. Therefore, in the movement's final twenty minutes or so Mahler pulls out all the stops and puts the orchestra into full swing. Maestro Vanska also pulls out the stops as he whips his orchestra into a red-blooded fury. And the Minnesota Orchestra acquit themselves wonderfully, producing a big, rich, radiant, and highly disciplined sound

So, how does Vanska's realization of the symphony compare to some of my favorites from Solti, Horenstein, Kubelik, Mackerras, Haitink, Bernstein, Tennstedt, and others? To me, Solti's first stereo recording with the London Symphony (HDTT or Decca) still holds up best interpretively, and Tennstedt's first EMI recording still makes the best sonic impact. Nevertheless, I've always admired Vanska's work, especially in Sibelius and Mahler, and here it is no different. Although he may convey a more gentle handling of the symphony than the others I've mentioned, there is much beauty in his performance, a beauty often overlooked by other conductors in favor of Mahler's more histrionic qualities.

BIS packaged the disc in a cardboard fold-over sleeve, which they say "is made of FXC/PEFC-certified material with soy ink, eco-friendly glue and water-based varnish. It is easy to recyle, and no plastic is used." So it doesn't have a Digipak-style plastic holder for the disc but instead uses a paper inner sleeve that fits into a side pocket. Very nice.

Producer Robert Suff and engineer Mattheas Spitzbarth recorded the symphony at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota in March 2018. They made it for hybrid SACD and CD playback, so you can play it in multichannel or two-channel stereo from the SACD layer (using an SACD player) and two-channel stereo from the CD layer (using a regular CD player). I listened in two-channel SACD.

As always with a BIS recording, the sound is very natural. The microphone distancing provides a natural, concert hall-like perspective. The frequency response is warm and natural. The detailing is smooth and natural. The dynamics are wide and natural. You won't find an audiophile lovers' close-up definition here nor the clinical accuracy of an old Decca Phase-4 release. As I say, this is simply natural sound, the kind one might actually hear in person.

JJP

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


Classical Music News of the Week, December 7, 2019

West Edge Announces the 2020 Snapshot Program

Entering its fourth consecutive season, Snapshot is a collaboration between West Edge Opera and Earplay dedicated to getting new operas on their feet and giving audiences a first look at developing works from West Coast composers and librettists. The performances will take place on Friday January 31th, 2020 at 8:00PM at the Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St, Berkeley, CA 94703 and Saturday February 1st, 2020 at 8:00PM at the Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102. Tickets are $40.00 and can be purchased from the West Edge web page at http://www.westedgeopera.org/snapshot

This year's program features a particularly diverse selection of pieces, with settings ranging from rainforests of South America, all the way to China during the Han Dynasty, with a stop in the historic ballrooms of Oakland in the fifties.

Chinese-American composer Joan Huang has translated the poetry of noted historical figure Cai Wenji to create Eighteen Melodies for Hujia, an inventive portrait of a woman who has been forcibly removed from her home and family by powerful men during the Han Dynasty. The music is drawn from ancient tunes and the orchestral treatment evokes traditional Chinese instruments such as the guqin (similar to a zither) and hujia (a reeded ram's horn).

With music by Nicolas Lell Benavides and a libretto by Marella Martic Koch, Gilberto tells the story of a young latino man who struggles to keep his cultural identity despite being drafted into the violence of the Korean War. In the opening scene, Gilberto celebrates his last night dancing with friends at Oakland's historic Sweet's Ballroom before heading off to the war. Snapshot is proud to work with Opera Cultura to present an all latinx cast of singers.

In their brief chamber opera Moon, Bride, Dog, librettist Cristina Fríes and composer Ryan Suleiman reimagine the haunting fairy tale Donkey Skin as a surreal, post-apocalyptic dream. A young girl pursued by wild dogs struggles to remember how she arrived in her predicament, and is ultimately consumed by the traumatic act of remembering.

Finally, German born composer Peter Michael von der Nahmer and librettist Cynthia Lewis Ferrel shine a spotlight on the dark side of capitalism with El Canguro, the story of a young South American woman whose father forces her to bear and sell children on the lucrative adoption market.

For more information, visit https://www.westedgeopera.org/snapshot

--West Edge Opera

Mariss Jansons, Conductor of Top Classical Orchestras, Dies at 76
Mariss Jansons, conductor of top classical ensembles including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, has died in Russia. He was 76.

Jansons' death in St. Petersburg was confirmed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, where he was chief conductor. Jansons had canceled concerts this summer because of health reasons, the dpa news agency reported.

Born in German-occupied Riga in 1943 in what is now independent Latvia as the son of a conductor father and an opera singer mother, Jansons grew up in the Soviet Union and studied at the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Conservatory. He moved to Austria in 1969 and studied conducting with Hans Swarowsky at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and with Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg.

He was chief conductor in Pittsburgh from 1997 to 2004, regularly appeared at the Salzburg Festival, and in 2006 and 2012 conducted the Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert broadcast around the world. He left the Pittsburgh orchestra to become principal conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, a post he held until 2015. Jansons is credited with raising the reputation of the Oslo Philharmonic through recordings and international tours during a 23-year tenure as music director.

--Associated Press

FAYM December Newsletter
40 violins that were part of a youth music program at the Boy's and Girl's Clubs of South Nevada several years ago and sponsored by the Las Vegas Philharmonic have been presented to the Foundation to Assist Young Musicians for use in our "Violins for Kids" program. The violins were purchased via a grant from the Rogers Foundation and will be a welcomed asset for expanding our "V4K" program!

FAYM students perform for Stella Mason Parson Excellence in Education Awards brunch. Stella Parson was the first black woman to get a bachelor's degree from University of Reno many years ago. Ms. Parson took her degree and went to work teaching in the Clark County School District. It was my privilege to get to know Ms. Parson as my own daughter was a student in Ms. Parson's 3rd grade class approximately 40 years ago. Ms. Parson is now deceased, but her family and friends have established a scholarship to honor this great teacher's work in educating our children. It is their goal to gather enough monies to offer a full-ride scholarship to an African-American female student here in Nevada. On November 16, 2019 our FAYM students were invited to perform some music during their Excellence in Education Awards/scholarship fundraising event.

Mr. Thomas arranged for several of our advanced musicians to perform, and I of course was in the audience along with my daughter Jessica, Ms. Parson's former student. Our FAYM students were awesome! They performed Abendsegen, David and Michael, Celtic Dance, and Finale from First Symphony. It was very exciting for me to see and hear our students perform. Mr. Thomas and I were very proud of their beautiful performance.

For complete information, visit https://www.thefaym.org/

--Arturo Ochoa, Past FAYM President

Compositions Must Be Learned, Not Memorized
Most pianists and piano students memorize their work being 'studied', but without the slightest idea of what is in the work. I am preparing individual compositions with analyses that must be part of the practice and/or the piano lesson. This is a completely different approach that is not presented in any theory manual or teaching method.

Visit the Web site for complete information: https://thepianoprofessor.com/

--Ralph Carroll Hedges, "The Piano Professor"

New World Symphony and Miami City Ballet Celebrate Stravinsky and Balanchine
On Saturday, February 1, at 7:30 p.m. ET, the New World Symphony, America's Orchestral Academy (NWS), and Miami City Ballet (MCB) come together for a special live-streamed WALLCAST event celebrating Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine, two icons of the 20th century whose decades-long friendship proved to be one of the most prolific artistic pairings of their time.

Led by NWS Co-Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), this performance at the New World Center is projected live on the 7,000-sq.-ft. eastern façade of the building and may be experienced for free in adjacent SoundScape Park. Additionally, a free live-stream is available to viewers around the world via Medici.tv.

Curated by MTT and MCB Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez, who as young artists worked with Stravinsky and Balanchine respectively, the program on both evenings comprises Stravinsky-Balanchine's Apollon musagète; Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto, featuring violinist James Ehnes; and Stravinsky's Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant, originally choreographed for circus elephants and ballerinas by Balanchine on commission from Ringling Bros. Circus Polka is performed in its orchestral concert version, accompanied by immersive visuals by video artist Emily Eckstein.

For more information, visit https://www.nws.edu/news/nws-joins-miami-city-ballet-in-celebrating-stravinsky-and-balanchine/

--John Hamby, Shuman Associates

ROCO Celebrates the New Year with Beer and Brass, Peter and the Raptor, and Age of Aquarius
ROCO will kick off the new year with three Connections series events this January, spotlighting exciting community collaborations and taking audiences to unique spaces across Houston.

First, on January 9, the ROCO Brass Quintet will present their annual Beer & Brass evening at Saint Arnold Brewing Company, featuring the ROCO Brass Quintet in traditional beer hall music and favorite arrangements of popular tunes.

Then, on January 11, ROCO will put their own twist on Prokofiev's beloved tale Peter and the Wolf, with Peter and the Raptor in partnership with the Houston Museum of Natural Science - performed by a ROCO Wind Quintet with timpani and brought to life by actors portraying each character of the children's classic.

Finally, on January 30, ROCO will explore the music of the 70s (the 1770s, 1870s, and 1970s, that is) at the historic house museum Rienzi, with a program entitled "Age of Aquarius." Featuring Professor Robert Greenberg of "The Great Courses," the lecture-performance showcasing a trio of ROCO musicians will include works from Haydn, Mozart, and Dvorak, as well as lesser-known composers Zdenek Fibich and Ivan Erod. Prior to the concert, there will be a reception of food and refreshments, including an opportunity to enjoy a docent-led tour of Rienzi.

For more information, visit https://roco.org/performances/roco-connections-beer-brass-3/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Meet Sarah Coit
An interview with Sarah Coit, making her American Bach Soloists debut on New Year's Eve.
Hometown: Spring Hill, FL
Education: Bachelor of Arts Degrees in Theatre Performance and Music Studies from the University of South Florida. Masters in Voice Performance from the University of Michigan.
Hobbies: Baking, visiting aquariums and historical landmarks, being goofy.
Favorite opera singer before 1960:  Dame Janet Baker: I think love for her singing transcends time!
Favorite modern opera singer: Dame Sarah Connolly
Favorite food: White Cheddar Popcorn
Mantra: It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.

Q: When did you start singing?
A: I participated in choir in elementary school, but I didn't take formal singing lessons until high school.

Q: Who/what were your major influences?
A: I think I was always interested in performing. Some of my clearest memories from elementary school were when they had theater or music groups come to perform for us. My first voice teacher, Dr. Roberta (Bobbi) Moger, had such a big influence on me. Her two biggest things were vocal health and leading with joy. She'd always take time to find pieces for her students that spoke to them. Her love of music wasn't ego driven and you could just tell how much joy it gave her to participate in music making. It was such a great way to be introduced to serious music study.

Q: What's a typical day like in the life of Sarah Coit?
A: I feel like I've just gotten out of the YAP [Young Artist Program] circuit, so there's no such thing as a typical day yet, which I kind of love. Frequent gigging can give you a sense of homelessness, which I thought would be a struggle for me, but has actually made it easier for me to live in the moment. I don't have kids and my boyfriend and I visit each other when we have time off and play tourist. It's nothing like I expected and it's really fun!

--American Bach Soloists

Carnegie Hall Presents the International Contemporary Ensemble in Widmann Program
Carnegie Hall presents "America's foremost new-music group" (Alex Ross), the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and this season's Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair, Jörg Widmann, on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 at 7:30pm in Zankel Hall, NYC.

The all-Widmann program, part of Carnegie Hall's Fast Forward series, features the composer as virtuosic clarinet soloist and chamber music collaborator in his Liebeslied for Eight Instruments; Air for Solo Horn; Etude No. 2 for Solo Violin; Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, and Piano; Three Shadow Dances for Solo Clarinet; and Freie Stücke (Free Pieces).

International Contemporary Ensemble co-artistic director and percussionist Ross Karre says, "Widmann's practice is a perfect complement to the spirit of the International Contemporary Ensemble's collaborative history with composer-performers. A concert celebrating his compositions, his incredible clarinet virtuosity, and his conducting is a very special occasion. Though monographic in nature, the audience will experience an eclectic musical spectrum of sound-colors, instrumentations, and musical invention."

For more information, visit https://www.iceorg.org/events/2020/1/28/international-contemporary-ensemble-with-jrg-widmann

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Fifth Graders Compose and Perform Original Songs for Los Angeles Master Chorale
Fifth graders from Plasencia Elementary School and Compton Avenue Elementary STEAM Academy can now call themselves budding composers and songwriters, thanks to participation in the Los Angeles Master Chorale's Voices Within program. The fall series of "Voices Within" concerts featuring students performing songs they have written will take place on Friday, December 13, 2019 at 9:30am at Plasencia Elementary School and Tuesday December 17, 2019 at 9:30am at Compton Avenue Elementary STEAM Academy.

The concerts are the culmination of the 12-week "Voices Within" residency program that brings three teaching artists--a composer, a lyricist, and a performer--into the schools to introduce the students to musical concepts such as pitch, rhythm, and melody, and teaches them how to apply those concepts to songwriting. The students perform their songs for fellow students, teachers, friends and family. Each school will give two performances.

Free and open to the public
Street parking only

Friday, December 13, 2019 at 9:30am
Betty Plasencia Elementary School
1321 Cortez St. Los Angeles, 90026

Tuesday, December 17, 2019 at 9:30am
Compton Avenue Elementary School
1515 E. 104th Street, Los Angeles, 90002

--Lisa Bellamore, Los Angeles Master Chorale

Vaughan Williams: Symphonies Nos. 7 "Sinfonia Antartica" & 9 (CD Review)

Andrew Manze, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Onyx 4190.

By Karl W. Nehring

I was happily surprised recently to find this new CD release containing the generous pairing (more than 83 minutes!) of these two symphonies by one of my favorite composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Having auditioned a couple of previous releases in British conductor Andrew Manze's ongoing Vaughan Williams cycle, I was eager to give this new release an audition. 

In 1947, Vaughan Williams composed music for the film Scott of the Antarctic, which portrayed the ill-fated South Pole expedition of Royal Navy officer Captain Robert Scott, whose quest to lead the first party to reach the South Pole was beaten buy a month by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's expedition. On their way back from the Pole in 1912, Scott and all four other members of his party met their frozen deaths. Intrigued by the story and satisfied with the music he had composed for the film, Vaughan Williams set the score aside with the idea of composing a symphony based upon some of the themes. It took him a while to get to it, not starting work on the symphony until 1949, and it took him a while to finish it, finally completing his seventh full symphony in the latter part of 1952. Although the music can stand on its own independent from the story of the ill-fated polar expedition, the title that the composer gave to this work certainly invites the listener to contemplate that frozen continent; moreover, the literary quotations attached to the movements clearly evoke thoughts the tragic story.   

My wife and I have long had a musical custom that involves the "Sinfonia Antartica" (yes, that is the correct spelling – the composer titled this symphony in Italian). On that first fall day on Ohio when a big cold front moves in and a blast of frigid air lets us know that winter is on its inevitable way, we play it. On especially cold winter days when the snow is piling up, we often play it. And on especially hot summer days, we often play it.

Of course, we play it at other non-weather-related times, too, simply because it is a grand and stirring composition full of spectacular sounds. The large orchestra is augmented by an organ, a wordless three-woman mini-choir, a wordless soprano (Rowan Pierce), gong, bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, celesta, and last but not least, a wind machine. In addition, literary quotations meant to be spoken aloud (on this recording by Timothy West) have been attached to each of the five movements. Many recordings omit them, some recordings (with the advent of programmable digital media such as the CD) include them bunched together so that you can do with them what you will, but this Onyx recording has put them at the beginning of each movement. I did not think I would like this when I first obtained this disc, but can report that I have enjoyed it, and have preceded my comments below about each movement with its appropriate quotation.

Andrew Manze
Prelude:Andante maestoso – "To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite,/ To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,/ To defy power which seems omnipotent,/ ... / Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent:/ This ... is to be/ Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free,/ This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory." (from Shelley, Prometheus Unbound). This movement establishes the feeling of challenging the cold and desolation of the frozen expanse. Opening with a stately theme, the orchestral forces project a sense of grandeur, while the voices and wind machine that come in later in the movement offer a sense of desolation and fear. The listener cannot help but contemplate the cold and vastness of the Antarctic. The powerful sounds so well captured by the engineering team recording, from the tinkling of the percussion to the Telarc-like bass drum will provide a test for your system and a feast for your ears and imagination. The movement ends with a kind of fanfare and drum roll.

Scherzo:Moderato – "There go the ships, and there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein. " (Psalm 104, Verse 26). This lively movement produces a feeling of restless motion as themes are presented by various sections of the orchestra. Brass, percussion, strings, and woodwinds all get an opportunity to add to the energy.

Landscape:Lento — Ye ice falls! Ye that from the mountain's brow/ Adown enormous ravines slope amain—/ Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,/ And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!/ Motionless torrents! Silent cataracts!" (from Coleridge, Hymn before Sunrise, in the vale of Chamouni). This central movement of the symphony projects a sense of vastness and danger even at it provides a severe test of the ability of your audio system to play cleanly with power and authority. The movement starts slowly but soon begins to bloom with powerful organ notes providing a bass foundation for the orchestra above. There is a feeling of brooding, of fear, of the sheer immensity of the Arctic landscape.

Intermezzo:Andante sostenuto — "Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,/ Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time." (from Donne, The Sun Rising). This quote is spoken over some lingering notes from the orchestra as the third movement slides directly into the fourth as specified by the composer. Like the second movement, this fourth movement evokes a feeling of restlessness, but at a slower pace. What had been a restlessness born of eagerness in the second movement has been humbled by the immensity of the hostile landscape of the third movement, and we now sense the restlessness of our explorers contemplating defeat and impending doom. Rather than the huge chords of the earlier movements, the orchestration in this movement focuses somewhat more on solo instruments and smaller forces. 

Epilogue:Alla marcia, moderato (non troppo allegro) — "I do not regret this journey; we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint." (from Captain Scott's Last Journal). The final movement begins with a drum roll and brass fanfare. Does this signify a final sense of nobility, or rather a false bravado in the face of defeat and death? As the movement unfolds, we hear the wind machine and chorus, echoes of the symphony's opening theme (dreamlike remembrance of what seemed at the outset to be a noble quest?), and then the soprano, chorus, and wind machine as the symphony and quest fade to the end.

The composer's final symphony, the Ninth (hmmm…) is a wonderful work that seems to be largely overlooked, at least here in the United States. Some years back, for example, I got a phone call out of the blue from some fellow who had obtained my unlisted home phone number (yes, I am old). At some point in the conversation he asked me about Vaughan Williams. Which of RVW's symphonies were my favorites? "Well, let's see," I replied, "I like the Ninth…," but before I could get in another word, he came back with an exasperated-sounding, "the NINTH? Really? What about the Fifth? The NINTH??" Well… Truth be told, the RVW Fifth is my favorite of his nine symphonies. In fact, it is one of my favorite symphonies, period. But his Ninth is pretty darn good, too, and Manze and the RLPO deliver a fine performance.

The first time I ever heard the Ninth was by way of an Everest LP (remember Everest? 35mm tape technology, a real step forward sonically, but then subverted by mediocre pressings, not to mention their often laughable cover art) with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra that I purchased back in 1976 or so. This was the very first recording of this work, and Vaughan Williams was to be on hand for this auspicious occasion. Sadly, he passed away just hours before the session. The LP opened with Sir Adrian informing the orchestra of the composer's death.

An interesting feature of the Ninth is the saxophone trio that RVW added to the orchestra, resulting in a sonority that you do not often hear in symphonic music. And no, the effect is not at all jazz-like. Very interesting!

The opening movement reminds me somewhat of the Seventh, with some themes sounding similar in feeling. The second movement, which opens with a flugelhorn solo (this apparently caused some eyebrows to raise when the work was new), brings in an element of mystery, perhaps even a sense of danger, especially near the end. The third movement is more jaunty and bouncy, with the saxophones and percussion section getting a chance to have some fun, the movement ending with a drum roll on the snares. The final movement starts with the strings and then gives all the various parts of the orchestra time in the spotlight, with some especially poignant sounds from the saxophones near the end. The music is complex but flowing, showing Vaughan Williams to be still at the height of his compositional powers even late in his long life.

Overall, this is a truly fine release. Manze's way with these symphonies is right up there with the very best. For the Seventh, my favorite has long been Handley on EMI, and I have enjoyed Bakels on Naxos (spectacular sound, but the conducting seemed to be a bit overly dramatic at times) and Boult on EMI/Angel. In the Ninth, I have enjoyed the Haitink on Warner Classics and the Slatkin on RCA. Both performances – and the attendant sound quality – on this new Manze release on Onyx stand right up there with the very best. I highly recommend it.

KWN

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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 John 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 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 W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical 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 I 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 an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. 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 remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 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.
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