Jan 30, 2019

O Sole Mio: Song of Italy (CD review)

Various singers and ensembles. EMI 7243-5-66863-2.

Debate still rages among opera buffs about whether today's tenors are as good as those of the past. This collection, "Song of Italy," gives us five great singers of yesteryear singing famous Italian songs. The monaural recordings date from the mid 1920s to the late 1940s.

At the top of the ladder are Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957), with a voice of velvet smoothness, infinite flexibility, and seemingly limitless power; and Swedish-born Jussi Bjorling (1911-60), who, like Gigli, was considered a natural successor to Caruso. He had a voice of soaring lyricism that made his rivalry with Gigli comparable to the Pavarotti-Domingo contests of later years.

Jussi Bjorling
On a slightly less-exalted level is Giuseppe Di Stefano (1921-2008), who displays his usual penchant for dramatics, not an undesirable trait in the world of opera. Then there is Joseph Schmidt (1904-1942), who is something of an enigma. He provides perhaps the most expressive, if not the strongest, voice of all; yet his diminutive size (he was not quite five feet tall) kept him from appearing in opera on stage. Bad luck. Finally, represented by only one number is Luigi Infantino (1921-1991), a singer known as much for his phonograph recordings in the forties and fifties as for his personal appearances.

The disc includes a generous selection of twenty-three songs, including the expected "O Solo Mio" done in three different renditions--by Bjorling, Gigli, and Schmidt. I preferred Bjorling by a hair over Gigli, and Schmidt a distant third. Other songs include "Torna a Surriento," "Santa Lucia," "Maria, Mari," "Piscatore e Pusilleco," "Casarella," and many others.

The sound, as one might expect, is variable. The EMI remastering engineers have used enough noise reduction to eliminate any serious signs of hiss, making the top end inevitably soft but rendering the voices quite listenable. In a few cases, however, it is more the mono sound than anything else that betrays the age of the recordings.

In all, the disc provides an excellent showcase of vocal art and popular entertainment.


Jan 27, 2019

Volver (CD review)

Placido Domingo; Pablo Sainz-Villegas, guitar. Sony Classical 88985416852.

As one of the world's greatest tenors has aged (as of this writing, Placido Domingo was seventy-seven), he hasn't slowed down. True, he's now singing mostly popular rather than operatic material, and he's matured into more of a baritone range than tenor, but the voice is still rich and robust.

This time out, he's doing mainly famous Iberian and Latin America songs, accompanied by Spanish classical guitarist Pablo Sainz-Villegas, who also does three guitar solos during the program. This is Sainz-Vellegas's first album for Sony, by the way, and somewhere around the eight-hundred-and-first album for Domingo on a variety of labels.

Here's the track list:
  1. Carrillo: Sabor a mí
  2. Cardenas: Nunca
  3. Assad: Valeria's Bossa - guitar solo
  4. Ferrao: Coimbra
  5. Saavedera: Adiós Granada
  6. Mangore: Una limosna por el amor de Dios - guitar solo
  7. Larrea: Dos cruces
  8. Gomez: La morena de mi copla
  9. Diaz: Guantanamera - guitar solo
10. Almaran: Historia de un amor
11. Parra: Gracias a la vida
12. Gardel: Volver

Placido Domingo
If there is anything amiss with this roster of selections, it's its skimpy length. With only twelve selections and about forty-five minutes of total playing time, the album harkens to pop-music practice. I suppose it's enough to satisfy Domingo's fans, but it's hardly a good value for the dollar, given that a compact disc will hold almost eighty minutes of music. Well, OK, maybe I'm just used to classical music programs, which generally fill out a full disc of material.

Anyway, Domingo's legion of followers will find the album highly satisfying. Most of the songs are well known, and Domingo sings them in fine, full voice. More important, he sings them with characteristic emotion. These are heartfelt realizations, beautifully executed and both tenderly and passionately rendered. What's more, Sainz-Villegas's attendant guitar work is always an affectionate supplement to Domingo's voice, never an overshadowing factor. Plus, Sainz-Villegas's well-spaced solos add charming interludes to the program.

Producer and engineer Rafa Sardina recorded the album at AfterHours Studios and Watersound Studios, Los Angeles; Avatar Studios, New York; Wanna Music LLC, Miami; Metropolis Studios, London; 360 Global Media, Madrid; Ion Studios, Buenos Aires; and Villa Manipura Studios, Acapulco. Oddly, on most tracks the voice appears located well behind the guitar, which is quite close up, and additional instrumentation (violins, violas, cellos, flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, horns, drums, and double bass, depending on the selection) is so soft as to be hardly noticeable. These inconsistencies aside, Domingo's voice and the guitar are very well defined, without being hard or shrill.


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

Jan 23, 2019

Simply Baroque (CD review)

Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Sony SK 60680.

Apparently, by 1999 Yo-Yo Ma had run out of basic cello repertoire to record and began going in various different directions. For instance, he did a successful album of tango tunes, another of bluegrass, and yet another of contemporary music. The novelty this time out is that he plays on a period Stradivarius cello (1712) with Ton Koopman's period-instruments group, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.

They play about a half an hour of short Bach transcriptions, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," "Air on a G String," that kind of thing, and a pair of Boccherini cello pieces, the Concerto in G Major and the Concerto in D Major.

Yo-Yo Ma
While the Bach is undoubtedly appealing, I found it a bit fussy and over-refined. Ma's playing is ravishing, yet he seems to drain some of the life from the works in the name of beauty. On the other hand, the Boccherini is another world entirely. Maybe it's just that we hear more Bach pieces compared to Boccherini that comparisons are more harsh in the Bach. Still, I don't think I have ever heard works by Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) played with more elegance, more fluidity and grace, more expressiveness, or more subtle nuance. There is no loss of vitality here; the pieces are at once alive and enlightened. Certainly, Maestro Koopman's robust style helps both Bach and Boccherini, but he, too, adds a note of sensitivity to the latter.

The booklet note says a lot about Ma's having to adapt both his instrument and his performing technique to meet the demands of period music. It appears, instead, that the eighteenth century was more than willing to conform to Ma's style. The combination provides a unique listening experience, a step beyond what the usual period-instrument player might bring to these concertos.

Sony's sound (recorded at Stadsgehoorzaal, Leiden, Netherlands in 1998 and digitally remastered in 2009) is likewise good. Recorded in Holland's Stadageboorzaal Concert Hall, the acoustic is pleasantly resonant, helping to make the sonics sound realistic without in any way distorting them.  The results are smooth, natural, and reasonably clear, with a good degree of depth as well as breadth to the stereo image. Ma's cello is dominant, to be sure, but it never completely overpowers its orchestral accompaniment.

This is a disc that scores on almost all counts, lightweight but recommendable.


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

Jan 20, 2019

Cinema (CD review)

Renaud Capucon, violin; Stephane Deneve, Brussels Philharmonic. Erato 0190295633936.

At last count, there were approximately 19,382,475.3 recordings of film music in the catalogue. So, any new release has plenty of competition. What makes this one any more special than the rest? Well, mainly, it's French violinist Renaud Capucon.

According to his bio at Wikipedia, Capucon (b. 1976) entered the Conservatoire à rayonnement régional de Chambéry at the age of four, then the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris at the age of fourteen. Three years after that, having completed his studies, he won first prize in both chamber music and violin. There followed several international competitions before he joined the European Union Youth Orchestra and then the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra as first violin. About the same time, he began playing as a chamber musician and launched a solo concert and recording career. On a side note, after playing a Vuillaume, a Guadagnini, and a Stradivarius violin, in 2005 the Banque de Suisse Italienne BSI loaned him a Guarnerius, the "Panette" of 1737 that had once belonged to Isaac Stern.

And what's he up to on the present album? He's playing film music (a healthy nineteen tracks) with the accompaniment of Maestro Stephane Deneve and the Brussels Philharmonic. As Capucon explains it, "Playing music from the film soundtracks that mean so much to me has allowed me to tell my own story. A number of different tales end up woven together here, inspiring the best story of all--the one you'll tell yourself as listen to this album."

Here's a rundown of the selections:

  1. Morricone: Theme (from "Cinema Paradiso")
  2. Morricone: Gabriel's Oboe (from "The Mission")
  3. Barry: I Had a Farm in Africa (from "Out of Africa")
  4. Williams: Theme (from "Schindler's List")
  5. Delerue: Camille (from "Le Mépris")
  6. Piovani: Theme (from "Life Is Beautiful")
  7. Korngold: Romance (from "The Adventures of Robin Hood")
  8. Jarre: Carpe Diem (from "Dead Poets Society")
  9. Legrand: Papa, Can You Hear Me? (from "Yentl")
10. Rombi: Aria (from "Joyeux Noël")
11. Tiersen: Medley (from "Amelie")
12. Telson: Calling You (from "Bagdad Café")
13. Cosma: Le Concerto de Berlin (from "La Septième Cible")
14. Mancini: Moon River (from "Breakfast at Tiffany's")
15. Rota: Love Theme (from "The Godfather")
16. Desplat: New Moon (from "The Twilight Saga: New Moon")
17. Horner: Theme (from "Legends of the Fall")
18. Legrand: Theme (from "Summer of 42")
19. Cosma: Theme (From "The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe")

Renaud Capucon
The themes from "Cinema Paradiso" and "The Mission" are good places for Capucon to start the program because they emphasize the sweetness of his playing style. Capucon glides through them with consummate ease and refinement. He maintains a total control of his violin while asserting a total control of the music. OK, admittedly, these are probably not the most-demanding scores Capucon has ever had to play, but, still, to produce such lush, lovely tones is no easy matter. Maestro Deneve and the Brussels Philharmonic give him an equally lush and lovely support.

It's hard to pick out favorites among the many tunes. Most of the music runs high to heavy sentiment and plush romanticism, so it almost seems one of a sort after the first half dozen tracks. "Life Is Beautiful," the "Romance" from  "The Adventures of Robin Hood," and "The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe" tend to liven up the proceedings a bit. However, for the most part, things remain on the dreamy, nostalgic side, though never veering too far into the maudlin or sappy. I admit I have a special affection for "Amelie," "Mood River," "Summer of '42," and "The Godfather." Indeed, if really pressed I'd say "The Godfather Theme" was the single most splendid thing on the disc, with Capucon singing out the notes on his violin as though performing grand opera.

In all, the album demonstrates a poignant piece of musicianship and makes for winsome, engaging, easy listening.

Producers Alain Lanceron and Michael Fine and engineer Jean-Marc Laisne recorded the music at Flagey, Brussels, Belgium and Ferber Studio, Paris, France in June and July 2018. The sound is as sweet and gentle as much of the music. The violin is a bit too close for the orchestra behind it, but since this album is really a showcase for Capucon and his instrument, we perhaps might have expected that. When the orchestra does come up strongly, though, it tends almost to engulf the soloist in a soft, billowy reverberation. Fortunately, such occasions are few. Mainly, this is warm, ultrasmooth sound, not particularly transparent or dynamic but comfortable.


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

Jan 16, 2019

World Encores (CD review)

Mariss Jansons, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI Classics CDC 7243 5 56676 2 6.

Every so often a major label puts out a collection like this one of short, famous pieces of classical music, perhaps to interest beginners in the field who don't already have six or eight versions of each work. Nevertheless, I found a few new things among the old favorites from Jansons and his Oslo Philharmonic that might make this 1998 release a worthwhile investment even to older collectors.

The theme of the album is world travel, encores from different composers of different nationalities. The program starts with Bernstein's Overture from Candide, then goes on to Tchaikovsky's Pas de deux No. 14 from the Nutcracker, Sibelius's "Valse triste," Bizet's "Farandole," Bach's "Air" from Orchestral Suite No. 3, etc.

Mariss Jansons
A few less-recognizable bits are Kim's "Elegy," Alfven's "Vallflickans Dans," Toyama's "Dance of Celestials," Dinicu's "Hora Staccato," and Chapi's "Prelude." My own favorites, though, were Jansons' softly sweet versions of Grieg's "Morning" and Mascagni's "Intermezzo"; Villa-Lobos's delightful little steam train from Bachianas brasileiras No. 2; Gade's "Tango: Jealousy," an accompaniment to a silent Doug Fairbanks film; and the concluding Zorba suite by Theodorakis.

The recordings are all digital, dating from 1993-97, and the sound is agreeable throughout. It is quite natural in tonal balance and resonant ambiance, with excellent dynamics and a reasonable sense of depth. There is some slight veiling, however, and bass is only moderately deep. In other words, we are more than a few steps removed from front row seats, but the effect is fairly realistic and pleasing in any case.

With twenty items in all and a total time of over seventy-nine minutes, there ought to be something here for everyone, even if the listener may find most of the material familiar.


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

Jan 13, 2019

Alla Zingarese (CD review)

A fusion of Western classical and gypsy music. Civitas Ensemble; Pavel Sporcl and the Gipsy Way Ensemble. Cedille CDR 90000 179 (2-CD set).

First things first: Who are the two ensembles involved? The Civitas Ensemble are, according the booklet note, four of Chicago's top musicians--Yuan-Quig Yu (violin), Kenneth Olsen (cello), Winston Choi (piano), and Lawrie Bloom (clarinet)--who formed in 2011 as a chamber music group dedicated to presenting "engaging live performances of new and traditional works, inspiring a young generation of classical musicians, and bringing the healing power of music to those with limited access to live performances."

Pavel Sporcl "is one of the world's most prolific violinists and high-profile recording artists." In 2008, "he started playing with Gypsy musicians and later formed Gipsy Way Ensemble, who have stayed in its current formation since 2012, with Ensemble members Zoltan Sandor, viola; Jan Rigo, double bass; and Tomas Vontszemu, cimbalom." Together, they have played all over the world, and in 2015 Sporcl's civic-minded approach and advocacy for classical music earned him the Czech Republic's Medal of Merit.

And what's with the title, "Alla Zingarese"? Well, "All Gypsy," for starters, or, better, "In the Style of Gypsy Music." However, the selections aren't quite all gypsy, as we hear many of them in arrangements by various non-gypsy people, thus making them as the inside cover notes "a fusion of Western classical and gypsy music...an exploration of what happens when distinct cultural and musical traditions join together."

Here's a rundown on the program:

Disc One:
(Civitas and Gipsy Way Ensembles)
1. Johannes Brahms (arr. Lukas Sommer):
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor
2. Georges Boulanger (arr. Lukas Sommer):
Sérénade Tzigane
3. Jeno Hubay (arr. Pavel Sporcl and Lukas Sommer):
"Hullámzó Balaton," Scène de la Csárda No. 5, Op. 33
4. Pablo de Sarasate (arr. Lukas Sommer):
5. Lukas Sommer:
Gipsy Odyssey
6. Pavel Sporcl:
Gipsy Fire
7. Brahms: Rondo alla Zingarese

Disc Two:
(Civitas Ensemble)
1. Sylvie Borodova:
Dža More for Solo Violin
2. Franz Liszt:
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C- sharp minor
3. Lukas Sommer:
4. Leó Weiner:
Peregi Verbunk for Clarinet and Piano
5. David Popper:
Hungarian Rhapsody, Op. 68 for Cello and Piano
6. George Enescu (arr. Cliff Colnot):
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1

Civitas Ensemble
As noted above, the music is a blend of traditional gypsy tunes and classical instruments and playing techniques. The opening arrangement of the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1 is a good example. One can sense both its classical and folk roots, with instrumentation to complement both sides. Of course, whether this kind of crossover material will appeal to either camp is open to question. The point is that the music can be infectious and highly entertaining if you give it a chance. I'm not sure it's trying to make any point, except, perhaps, that every musical medium can be fun, even when they're mixed.

Anyway, I found the entire album captivating, and I especially liked the use of the cimbalom, a type of zither or dulcimer. I found myself wanting to hear more of it. If I really had to choose, though, I think I enjoyed the selections by the two groups together best of all, if only for the added richness of the sound they produced. Still, all of this music is addictive, rollicking, yet sensitively performed by musicians who obviously cherish what they're playing.

Producers Steve Rodby and James Ginsburg and Cedille's ace engineer Bill Maylone recorded the album at the Chicago Recording Company in May 2017 and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago in August and September 2017. The resultant sound is smooth and warm, with enough resonance for comfortable listening and enough transparency for good detailing. These are small ensembles, so each player stands out in clear relief, yet not so vividly as to seem unreal. As always with Cedille, the sound is natural, realistic, as opposed to overtly audiophile.


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

Jan 9, 2019

Mirror in Mirror (CD Review)

Works by Ciupinski, Corigliano, Glass, Lauridsen, Pärt, and Ravel. Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Akiro Egushi, piano; Elizabeth Bridges, keyboard; Jakub Ciupiñski, luthéal reproduction;  Kristjan Järvi, Philharmonia Orchestra. Avie Records AV 2386.

Welcome back a guest reviewer, Karl W. Nehring. For over twenty years Karl was the editor of "The $ensible Sound" magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. Take it, Karl:

This new album by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is a delightful combination of interesting music, splendid playing, excellent engineering, and even -- as an added and unexpected bonus -- thoughtful, helpful, and intelligent liner notes. If only more music releases were so thoughtfully produced!

Although on the whole I have never been a big fan of the music of Philip Glass, I have found some of his smaller-scale works to be enjoyable. Meyers opens her program with an arrangement for violin and piano by Glass's frequent collaborator Michael Reisman of the composer's Metamorphosis II. Pianist Akira Eguchi and Meyers make this piece soar and sing. Indeed, the expression and passion these musicians bring to this music belie the reputation for boringly repetitious minimalism that Glass's music has accrued among many music listeners.

Interestingly enough, the liner notes mention that Metamorphosis II was influenced by Arvo Pärt's Fratres, the next cut on this CD. I have heard many performances of various arrangements of Fratres, including some for violin and piano as on this recording, but never have I heard a performance as strikingly virtuosic as this one. I would never have thought of Pärt as composing gypsy music, but there is a hint of that here, at least to these ears. Fascinating!

Next up is the title track, Spiegel im Spiegel ("Mirror in MIrror"), also by Pärt. Although simple on the surface, this truly is a composition with great depth of feeling, a deeply reflective piece, as implied by its title. Meyers mentions in the liner notes that she had worked closely with Pärt a few years ago while recording several of his compositions, an experience that provided her with an insight into both the composer and his music. Meyers and Eguchi play this music in a loving but straightforward way, allowing listeners to find their own reflections as they gaze into the music.

Anne Akiko Meyers
Although Meyers somehow managed to find a gypsy thread in the music of Part, she somehow manages to overlook the gypsy element in Ravel's Tzigane, which she plays in a straightforward manner that strikes these ears at least as lacking in the necessary passion and flair. An interesting aspect of this performance, though, is the inclusion of a digital recreation of the sound of a luthéal, which the liner notes explain is an optional piano attachment – now virtually extinct – that Ravel indicated could be used in performance. The percussive sound of the luthéal does add an intriguing dimension to the sound, but overall, this performance of the Tzigane is the least appealing track on this CD. It just sounds out of place, not quite consonant with the overall pensive, introspective mood of the rest of the program.

That more introspective mood is restored, however, with the next cut, a moving piece titled Lullaby for Natalie, which was written by composer John Corigliano at the request of Meyers's husband to play in honor of their at that time yet-unborn child. In Corigliano's liner note, he mentions that Meyers sent him a video of her playing the lullaby for baby Natalie, who was indeed asleep by the end of the piece: "The baby, awake at first, was asleep at the end, so either the 5-minute lullaby had bored her to sleep or I had lived up to the promise of my title. I will never know." Those who listen to this cut will not be bored to sleep but will rather be enchanted by its charms.

The next cut, Edo Lullaby, based on the traditional Japanese folk song "Edo No Komori Uta," is a composition for violin and electronics by Jakub Ciupiñski, who explains in his liner note that the opening quotes the original melody while the rest of the piece "represents my subjective interpretation of its spirit." The end result does not sound like a traditional lullaby – there are lots of electronic effects going on in the deep bass that would shake your woofers, not to mention your baby, wide awake. Perhaps this is what Ciupiñski has in mind when he writes, "it is my personal nod to the Zen tradition, which I think of as an ancient lullaby that makes you wake up." In any event, it is an interesting piece of music that fits well into the overall arc of the program.

The next cut, Wreck of the Umbria, is also by Ciupiñski, who explains that the title came from an underwater wreck in Sudan that he had explored back in 2005. The violin has a haunting sound, a mood augmented by electronic effects that truly do allow the listener to conjure up the mental image of a mysterious underwater realm. Although my brief description might give the impression that this is bizarre, forbidding music, it is actually quite enticing and eminently listenable.

Although the previous pieces on this album have been at chamber music scale, the program concludes with an arrangement for violin and orchestra (in this performance, the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Kristjan Järvi) by composer Morton Lauridsen of his oft-recorded (e.g., as led by the late Robert Shaw on a marvelous Telarc recording with the same title) choral piece, O Magnum Mysterium. The sound of Meyers's violin floating above the orchestral cushion is a grand and fitting way to conclude this beautiful production, which is first-class in every respect.


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

Jan 6, 2019

Vivaldi x2 (CD review)

Double Concertos for Horns, Oboes, Violin and Cello, and Oboe and Bassoon. Adrian Chandler, director and violin, La Serenissima. Avie Records AV2392.

First, the good news: There isn't a Four Seasons in sight.

The bad news? There isn't any. As always with director and violinist Adrian Chandler and his period-instrument band La Serenissima ("most serene," as in the nickname for Venice), everything is in perfect order. The ensemble is clean and precise, yet lively and stimulating. "Vivaldi x2" is another outstanding release in La Serenissima's fine catalogue of recordings.

This time out the group's gimmick is to include as many of Vivaldi's concertos as possible written for two primary instruments. These include

Concerto in F, RV 539, for two horns, strings, and continuo
Concerto in D minor, RV 535, for two oboes, strings, and continuo
Concerto in A, RV 546, for violin, cello, strings, and continuo
Concerto in G, RV 545, for oboe, bassoon, strings, and continuo
Concerto in F, RV 538, for two horns, strings, and continuo
Concerto in B flat, RV 547, for violin, cello, strings, and continuo
Concerto in A minor, RV 536, for two oboes, strings, and continuo
Concerto S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B in F, RV 574, for two horns, two oboes, bassoon, violin, cello, strings, and continuo

As each concerto lasts from six to about twelve minutes, it gives the album a total time of over seventy-five minutes. That's close to a full house, the upper limit of a Red Book CD.

Adrian Chandler
Anyway, Chandler and his crew are no namby-pamby HIP ensemble. They attack each line with vigor and enthusiasm. Yet despite their zest for the music making, they are as exacting in their execution as anyone. Take the first concerto, for instance, the Concerto for Two Horns. There's nothing fussy about it; it brims over with life. Still, the slow middle movement shows sensitivity and grace, and then it ends in a note of pure effervescence.

And so it goes. Vivaldi wrote a busload of double concertos, so the eight on this disc are but a small sampling. Perhaps this portends more such material from Chandler and La Serenissima. Let us hope so.

However, if I have any minor quibble about the album, it's one I've had about hundreds of CD's and LP's over the years: The cover art. I'm probably alone in this, but I like looking at a recording's cover art while enjoying the recording's music. When a cover picture conjures up images of the music's content, I'm pleased, as with La Serenissima's "The French Connection" and "A Tale of Two Seasons." However, when it's as dull as the picture of two cute little cars ("x2") on the present black-and-white cover, it might as well be nonexistent. Full-face portraits of an album's primary artist annoy me as well: photos of Alfred Brendel or Herbert von Karajan or whomever; I don't care.

Let me elaborate: Many years ago, Philips released an LP recording of Schubert's "Trout" Quintet by an augmented Beaux Arts Trio. The album featured a painting of an old mill with a water wheel beside a bucolic scene of a running stream. It was beautiful; it inspired one to appreciate the music all the more. Then Philips issued the recording on CD and changed the cover art to some drab, generic abstract fish painting (and later to a trio of jumping fish). When Pentatone re-released the album on SACD, they did likewise, failing to use the original cover art and employing some nondescript water imagery. So I looked on-line for a picture of the original Philips LP artwork, found it, copied it, re-sized it, sharpened it, spruced up the colors, and then printed it out and inserted it in front of the CD booklet. My enjoyment of the music improved.

Simon Fox-Gal produced, recorded, and edited this Vivaldi recording, which he made at Cedars Hall, Wells, Somerset, UK in February 2018. The sound is dynamic, a little close, clear if a tad soft, slightly reverberant, and detailed but never hard-edged or strident. Certainly, the hall is in evidence here, which makes the presentation all the more realistic. There is also a moderate depth to the image, so we get a sense of space as well as breadth, with plenty of air around the instruments. Nicely done.


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

Jan 2, 2019

Favorite Recordings of 2018

As you may know, I don't do "best-of" lists. "Best" suggests that I've sampled everything available, and even though I review a lot of music every year, I have not heard but a fraction of what's out there. So I prefer to do a simple "favorites" list. Here are just a few of the discs (listed alphabetically, to be fair) I heard last year that I enjoyed for their performance and sound. I know I've forgotten some; forgive me.

A QSF Journey
Quartet San Francisco. Reference Recordings.
To read the review, click here:

Anne Akiko Meyers: Fantasia
Music of Rautavaara, Szymanowski, and Ravel. Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Kristjan Jarvi, Philharmonia Orchestra. Avie Records.
To read the review, click here:

Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Also, Romances; Schubert: Rondo. James Ehnes, violin; Andrew Manze, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Onyx Classics.
To read the review, click here:

Elgar: Violin Concerto
Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Andrew Litton, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Avie Records.
To read the review, click here:

Fuchs: Piano Concerto "Spiritualist"
Also, Poems of Life; Glacier; Rush. Jeffrey Biegel, piano; JoAnn Falletta, London Symphony Orchestra. Naxos.
To read the review, click here:

Gershwin Reimagined
An American in London. Shelly Berg, piano; various featured artists; Jose Serebrier, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Decca.
To read the review, click here:

Haydn: Concerti per Esterhazy
Violin Concertos No. 1 in C major and No. 4 in G major; Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major. Amandine Beyer, violin; Marco Ceccato, cello; Gli Incogniti. Harmonia Mundi.
To read the review, click here:

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream
Anna Lucia Richter, soprano; Barbara Kozelj, alto; Pro Musica women's choir; Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra. Channel Classics.
To read the review, click here:

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1. Itzhak Perlman, violin; Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra. ARC, remastered.
To read the review, click here:

Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
Claudio Abbado, London Symphony Orchestra. HDTT, remastered.
To read the review, click here:

Robertson: Symphony No. 1
Also, Suite for Orchestra; Variations for Small Orchestra. Anthony Armore, Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records.
To read the review, click here:

Songs for Strings
Arranged and conducted by Donald Fraser, English Symphony Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra. Avie Records.
To read the review, click here:


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing for the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa