Feb 27, 2019

Optimizing Subwoofer Integration, Part 1

Welcome Classical Candor's newest contributor, Tech Analyst Bryan Geyer, whose article on "Optimizing Subwoofer Integration" should prove fascinating and informative to anyone interested in the subject of sound reproduction.

Mating subwoofers with "mini-monitor" main speakers in a 2-channel stereo (not "home theater") system

How to select and optimally blend small subwoofers with mini-monitors: When space or decor preference dictates the use of small "mini-monitor" main speakers (instead of big full-range speakers) you'll need to supplement the bass if your goal is full fidelity. The best way to do that is to add a pair of small self-powered subwoofers--and the best place to "hide" them is in the front corners of the room, flanked outside the main mini-monitors. This location generally offers acceptable cosmetic compromise, and it assures that both subwoofers are effectively positioned to partially cancel the inevitable modal reflections that muddy the low bass in home listening rooms.

The smallest self-powered subwoofer that I find acceptable is JL Audio's E-Sub e110. These subs are fully-sealed, and sum to about 1.8 cubic feet each; weight = 53 lbs. Bigger gets impractical, so check the linear dimensions of the e110 and use that as your guideline.

The JL Audio E-Sub e110 is capable of virtually flat output over the 30 Hz to 130 Hz range, and it's solidly built; it's a fine small subwoofer. Fully-sealed subs are inherently less fussy to position and orient than ported reflex or passive radiator type subs, and sealed subs are naturally easier to phase-sync with the output from your main speakers at the listening position. This latter benefit will materially simplify final tuning.

Next, decide what crossover frequency to apply. If you use small monitors with ~ 5 inch woofers they'll exhibit rapid falloff approaching 85 Hz, so select a higher crossover, like 94-96 Hz. At that frequency you'll also need to assure that your subwoofer is capable of near flat output up to a half-octave higher, e.g. to 130 Hz. If your subwoofer can't reach that high (many don't) you might have to pick a lower crossover point. Choose a compromise, but don't consider anything below 84 Hz. A lower crossover is not appropriate for mini-monitors of any cone diameter, and going lower always invites more room-related modal trash--disruptive resonance best kept below the crossover point.

Clearly, you should select a crossover frequency consistent what your main speakers can handle. You'll want to filter the low-pass drive, to the subwoofers, to reject frequencies above your crossover point. And you should also filter the high-pass drive, to your main speakers, to reject signals below the crossover point. This latter filtration is especially vital. You don't want to route power-hungry low-bass signals to mini-monitors that can't handle "heavy lifting," and the cleanest way to do so is to keep that low bass energy out of the main speakers' power amplifier.

The most effective way to assure optimum crossover is by means of a Linkwitz-Riley aligned 4th order (24 dB/octave) active crossover. That function is already self-contained in some of the premium high-end subwoofers (including the E-Sub e110). Lesser subwoofers generally provide simpler filtering, often just for the low-pass stage, and many of those are not full 4th order filters. Some subwoofers also include rudimentary high-pass filters too, but only with simple first or second order (6 dB, 12 dB/octave) attenuation slopes, and that's just not adequate. A clean, complementary crossover transition is of vital importance, and a Linkwitz-Riley aligned 4th order active filter is the best solution--but don't despair if your preferred subwoofer omits this important feature.

Why not? Well, because the best way to utilize such a crossover is to implement it externally, as a separate control box that's positioned with all of your other command functions. This will allow you to manage the subwoofer/main speaker blend from a single, central location. If this function stays buried inside each subwoofer, you'd then have to crawl to each separate unit to individually adjust the subwoofer/main speaker acoustic ratio. An external electronic crossover control eliminates that odious task. When this function is external, the subwoofers' internal crossovers should then be switched to their "bypass mode," rendering those internal filters non-functional. The crossover frequency and sub-to-main mix will then be set at the new external electronic crossover control.

Marchand Electronics, of Rochester, NY, offers a professional grade stereo electronic crossover, model XM66, that's ideal; refer http://www.marchandelec.com/xm66.html. The price at this writing is $850. It can be set, by the user, for any desired crossover frequency, and it provides a full 4th order (24-dB/octave) Linkwitz-Riley aligned slope for both the high passband (to main power amplifier) and the low passband (to self-powered subs), with ±5 dB (in precise ±1 dB steps) front panel level controls for each passband, on each channel. These controls make it quite easy to trim and shape the respective gain settings as desired to optimally accommodate programs of different genre. In addition, the XM66 includes a damping control that permits fine tuning of the response at the crossing notch. This makes it possible to build in a gentle (+1 to +2 dB) bump at the immediate hi/low hinge point to smooth over any perceived evidence of the passband transition.

Aurally blending subwoofers with main speakers by means of endless tweak-and-listen trials can get tiresome. There are more direct and precise ways to accomplish this critical final step; request my white paper headed "On Optimizing Subwoofer Gain & Phase Angle." This sheet describes how to accurately set the subwoofer's internal input gain and phase angle controls to assure that a phase coincident bass wave front of optimum amplitude is delivered at the designated listening position.

An external electronic crossover control should be inserted into the audio system at a point that follows the main preamp (or follows the master volume control if using a "passive preamp") and precedes the main power amplifier. The Marchand XM66 controller's input impedance is ~100kΩ, so it's fully load compatible with any preamp ever made. Ditto for any "passive preamp" that utilizes a stereo volume control of 10kΩ to 20kΩ, with no need for a unity gain buffer to load the passive stage when it can mate with the XM66 inputs via ≤ 2 meters of audio cable. That length restriction is normally not a problem. The standard XM66 is normally furnished with gold-plated unbalanced RCA-type input and output jacks; XLR-type connector sockets are available at additional cost. The XM66 output impedance is quite low, so it can couple to any power amplifier that exhibits an input impedance of ≥ 10kΩ. In sum, the Marchand XM66 crossover controller is easily integrated.

BG (December 2018)

Feb 24, 2019

Schumann: Cello Concerto (CD review)

Also, Adagio un Allegro; Fantasiestucke Opus 73; Funf Stucke im Volkston; Fantasiestucke Op. 88. Gautier Capucon, cello; Martha Argerich, piano; Renaud Capucon, violin; Bernard Haitink, Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Erato 0190295634216.

So, what's it to be first? The good news or the bad? Of course, the good.

On the plus side, the disc offers some great music in the Schumann Cello Concerto plus an assortment of other music by the composer. It's played by some of the world's great performers, including Gautier Capucon, cello; Renaud Capucon, violin; Martha Argerich, piano; Bernard Haitink, conductor; and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. It's hard to ask for better talent.

On the minus side for me (or still on the plus side for a lot of other folks), Erato chose to record the music live, in concert. So, no, I don't think it sounds as good as it could have sounded, but such are the demands of today's economics. Besides, it's some of the most natural live sound I've heard in years, so it's not much of a real minus.

Anyway, the program begins with the Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 by German composer and critic Robert Schumann (1810-1856). He wrote it in 1850, zipping through its composition in a mere two weeks. However, he would never hear it performed in his lifetime, and it only found a première some four years after his death.

Why no public performance in his lifetime? Possibly because Schumann recognized it was too unusual a piece. The opening movement is rather fragmentary; the second intensely lyrical, with a conversation between the soloist and the principal cellist; and the finale is in a quick Vivace tempo. Further, possibly because Schumann didn't want there to be any chance for applause between movements, he indicated all three movements be played without pause.

Gautier Capucon
Capucon and Haitink appear to take things a bit more leisurely than we generally hear, yet the timings would indicate they're in the ballpark with other recordings. And there is certainly nothing lax in Capucon's presentation. Indeed, he seems right on the money in most regards, if perhaps emphasizing the poetic aspects of the score more so than the purely dramatic. The performers take the transitions between movements at so smooth a pace, one hardly notices the change. Capucon's forte in the piece is his lyrical playing, which works best in the second movement. Then, the whole team works up a good head of steam in the final part yet in a performance that still maintains the romantically melodious, yearning nature of the score, also making it sound less disjointed than it sometimes can sound.

Filling out the disc are four additional Schumann items: the Adagio un Allegro, Op. 70; the Fantasiestuckes Op. 73 and Op. 88; and the Funf Stucke im Volkston, Op. 102. They are ably performed by pianist Martha Argerich and violinist Renaud Capucon. I found these performances more animated, more spontaneous, even in the slower pieces, than those of the concerto. They are worth the price of the album in themselves.

Producer Michael Fine and engineer Erdo Groot recorded the concerto live in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Netherlands, in November 2015. Producer and engineer Ulrich Ruscher recorded the other pieces live at the Auditorio Stello Molo Luganao, Switzerland in June 2009 and 2010, and November 2012.

The engineers miked the concerto a little farther away than we usually hear in a live performance, thus making it sound a bit more realistic. It's also a little softer than usual but again not unrealistically so. The solo instrument, too, is a bit farther back but well integrated with the orchestra. Detailing, as I say, is not entirely transparent but more natural than is common for a live recording. Dynamics seem a little restrained as well, so you may have to turn up the volume to get it to sound at all impressive.

In the closing duets, the sound is also a bit softer and more distant than one often finds in live recordings, making them sound more like studio recordings. I'm not sure if this was the result of the mike placement or a bit engineering magic afterward, but they sound quite nice.

The engineers have also mercifully edited out any applause.


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

Feb 20, 2019

Strauss, R.: Thus Spake Zarathustra (CD review)

Also Holst: The Planets. Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Delos DE 3225 (2-disc set).

This double album is titled "Dallas Space Spectacular," a designation based on a tenuous connection between Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra and the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Because director Stanley Kubrick used Strauss's "Sunrise" Introduction to Zarathustra several times in his 1968 film, I suppose the piece will forevermore be referred to by the general public as "space" music. So be it.

In any event, on the set under review I preferred Andrew Litton's interpretation of Zarathustra to his more hurried performance of Gustav Holst's The Planets. His Zarathustra has real weight and body to it, with the big dramatic climaxes resounding with emotion. Most of Litton's Planets, however, seem like they're spinning crazily out of orbit. Maybe they're rushing to face some unknown cosmic appointment that we don't know about, or maybe Litton himself was rushing to keep a dinner date.

Andrew Litton
Delos recorded the sound in what they called at the time (1998) "Virtual Reality," actually Dolby Pro Logic. It sounds just fine in normal two-channel stereo, but played over a surround-sound system with a center and rear speakers, it is supposed to exhibit enhanced spatial qualities. I tried it in both of my sound systems--in my main, living room system, which uses two, large bi-amplified speakers and in my home theater system located in an adjacent room, which uses seven smaller speakers, a bass woofer, and a Denon 7.1 receiver. The recording sounded best in two channel, not just because the living room speakers are better but because with 7.1 speakers the Dolby Pro Logic matrix fed too much information to the center and rear channels. Frankly, I wasn't about to readjust the levels of the center and rear speakers to accommodate the recording, as a matter of principle. I have yet to hear one of these surround-sound recordings that didn't need some sort of volume adjustment in one or more speakers, and even then I have never been fully satisfied with the sound. I know some people say that Pro Logic was meant only for movie soundtracks, not for the reproduction of music, and I see their point.

Anyway, in two-channel, as I say, it sounded fine. Compared to several other Zarathustra recordings (EMI, Newport Classic Auricle, Philips, DG, and JVC/RCA), however, the Delos sound had less depth, less transparency, and less deep bass. My reference Planets (Hi-Q/EMI), also sounded better than the Delos, with greater depth and clarity. My conclusion, therefore, is that the comparison recordings are better, even if a couple of them are costlier.

Still, you will find nothing to dislike about Delos's sound, either, and Litton's performance of The Planets may even grow on you. So if the set's combination of titles appeals you, there is no serious need to hesitate.


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

Feb 17, 2019

Saint-Saens: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 5 (CD review)

Also, etudes, mazurka, Allegro appassionato, and valse. Bertrand Chamayou, piano; Emmanuel Krivine, Orchestre National de France. Erato 0190295634261.

French composer, conductor, organist, and pianist Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) wrote five piano concertos. Of the five, the Second and Fifth are probably the most famous, which, by no coincidence, is what we have on the present disc, played by French pianist Bertrand Chamayou, accompanied by French conductor Emmanuel Krivine and the French National Orchestra, and recorded by the French record label Erato. You might say it's all-French affair.

Saint-Saens wrote the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 in 1868, and, as I say, it remains among the most-popular of his piano concertos. Oddly for a modern concerto, Saint-Saens begins the work with a relatively slow movement, followed by a faster second movement that resembles a scherzo, and finishes with a very quick Presto. These mercurial tempo changes prompted the Polish pianist and composer Zygmunt Stojowski to joke that the piece "begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach."

I should tell you here that up until hearing Chamayou my favorite recordings of the concertos have been with Jean-Philippe Collard on EMI/Warner Classics, as well as Stephen Hough on Hyperion. Now I have to reconsider those top choices, at the least adding Chamayou to them. His dazzling, detailed finger work in the opening section of No. 2 is hard to resist from the start. He then goes on to produce more excitement than most other pianists combined in this work, if not quite as much lyrical beauty. In all, I'd give Collard the nod in poetry and Chamayou the edge in warmth and fervor.

Bertrand Chamayou
Piano Concerto No. 5 "Egyptian" Saint-Saens wrote in 1896, some twenty years after his fourth piano concerto. It has the nickname "Egyptian" because the composer wrote it in Luxor, Egypt, and because the music is among his most exotic, displaying Spanish, Asian, and Middle-Eastern influences. Saint-Saens explained that the music represented a sea voyage.

The opening Allegro alternates between slow and fast segments; the central Andante begins with an introductory blast before settling into its more lyrical section; and the piece ends with an energetic Molto Allegro, the opening of which simulates the sound and feeling of a paddle-wheel boat up the Nile.

As with the Second Concerto Chamayou is consistently faster than most of his rivals, sometimes surprisingly so. If you regard Saint-Saens as a master of dramatic contrasts, juxtaposing sections of sheer, luxuriant composure with passages of intense, almost riotous passion, then Chamayou's interpretation should appeal to you. It did to me.

In addition to the two piano concertos, Chamayou provides seven short, lesser-known solo pieces: Etude Op. 111 No. 4 "Les Cloches de Las Palmas"; Etude Op. 52 No. 6 "En forme de valse"; Mazurka Op. 66 No. 3; Etude Op. 111 No. 1 "Tierces majeures et mineures"; Allegro appassionato Op. 70; Etude Op. 52 No. 2 "Pour I'independance des doigts"; and Valse nonchalante Op. 110. Chamayou's playing is as brilliant here as it is in the concertos, with buoyancy, ebullience, detail, and opulence aplenty.

Producers Daniel Zalay and engineer Catherine Derethe recorded the concertos at the Auditorium, Radio France, Paris (concertos) in December 2017 and April 2018. Producer Vincent Villetard and engineer Catherine Derethe recorded the solo pieces at the same location as the concertos in April 2018. The clarity of the piano is superb, among the best I've heard. Moreover, in the concertos the engineer integrated the piano fairly well with the orchestra instead of the soloist being a mile out in front. The orchestral accompaniment is also nicely transparent, without being too strident or hard. The whole affair is miked a trifle close for my liking, but it's a minor concern and no doubt accounts for the recording's excellent clarity. Because of the closeness, too, there is not quite so much natural hall resonance present (for some reason more noticeable to me in the Second Concerto than the Fifth), but again it's a small price to pay for the overall lucidity of the production.


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

Feb 13, 2019

Rule Britannia: Last Night of the Proms (CD review)

Paul Daniel, English Northern Philharmonia and Leeds Festival Chorus. Naxos 8.553981.

The Naxos disclaimer reads, "This is a recording of music performed frequently at the Last Night of the Proms, but not of the event itself." Just so you don't think you're getting an actual live Royal Albert Hall performance as traditionally recorded by other labels.

Nevertheless, the music is thoroughly English in spirit, and the disc represents a good value in popular chauvinistic English music. The program starts with Walton's "Crown Imperial," then goes on to what is practically England's second national anthem, "Jerusalem." It continues with the centerpiece of the collection, Sir Henry Wood's "Fantasia on British Sea Songs"; and it concludes with Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1."

Paul Daniel
In between these works are other pieces by Elgar, Arnold, Parry, and Walton. Maestro Paul Daniel, the English Northern Philharmonia, and the Leeds Festival Chorus play the music with great enthusiasm, if not in so grand a manner as those recordings by Sir Adrian Boult or Sir John Barbirolli. But the music is so stirring and patriotic, it practically makes even a non-British citizen want to stand up and cheer.

The sound Naxos provides is very wide ranging, with good transient impact and a decent depth of field. It is a little thick around the middle, though; not so transparent as the aforementioned Boult or Barbirolli performances on older EMI recordings. The bass is deep enough but not particularly well defined. Ensemble performance and overall tone are not so resplendent as the Philharmonia or London Philharmonic, either, but for the cost of the disc it is quite a reasonable compromise. For the Henry Wood medley itself the disc is worth the price.


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

Feb 10, 2019

Schreker: The Birthday of the Infanta, Suite (CD review)

Also, Prelude to a Drama; the Romantic Suite. JoAnn Falletta, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.573821.

Here's another of those composers whose music was once very popular but then fell into disfavor, whose name is hardly recognized anymore. Franz Schreker (1878-1934) was an Austrian composer and conductor who at one time in the first part of the twentieth century was among the most-famous living opera composers in the world, second only at the time to Richard Strauss. But he had the misfortune to live at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Austria and Germany, and by the 1930s because he was Jewish his music was banned by the Nazis, and he lost his position in the music world.

Fortunately, we have people like JoAnn Falletta championing his work. On the present album she leaves her familiar Buffalo Symphony for the Berlin Radio Symphony, which is perhaps a tad closer to the source, and presents three of Schreker's purely orchestral pieces.

The program begins with Prelude to a Drama, completed in 1915 as a concert overture to Schreker's opera Die Gezeichneten ("The Branded" or "The Stigmatized"), which the booklet note describes as "a lurid drama involving murder and madness." Although Schreker worked during the onset of the modern era, his roots were still firmly planted in the Romanticism of the eighteenth century with Wagner and the early Richard Strauss, tempered by the emerging impressionism and expressionism movements. The Prelude is filled with unabashed emotionalism and melodrama, yet Ms. Falletta maintains a dignified approach, making it all seem perhaps more substantial than it really is. What's more, the Berlin orchestra plays with such a sophisticated charm, we can almost forgive the music of some of its excesses.

Next comes the album's title piece, Der Geburtstag der Infantin ("The Birthday of the Infanta"), a theatrical pantomime Schreker wrote in 1923. Its subject matter is even more bizarre than Prelude to a Drama, the composer basing his story on Oscar Wilde's "tragic tale of an ugly dwarf who dies of a broken heart."

JoAnn Falletta
In ten sections, The Birthday is the longest piece on the program, and it, too, gets pretty emotional. Ms. Falletta makes the most of it, however, with a flexible rubato and a moderate use of contrast to keep things moving at a steady but not excessive pace. Like the Prelude, it's fun stuff, if overlong. Moreover, there are smoother, richer segments, as in the opening "Reigen" (roundelay or round dance) that are quite lovely. Conversely, there are also long stretches of bombast. Still, it's quite colorful, with surprisingly playful interludes mixed in with the seriousness, and Ms. Falletta presents it persuasively.

The third and final piece on the agenda is the four-part Romantische Suite ("Romantic Suite") from 1903. It is a more lyrical, subjective, abstract work than most of the program music that precedes it on the album. Of the three pieces Ms. Falletta offers here, I found the "Romantic Suite" the most attractive. At about twenty-five minutes it does not overstay its welcome, yet it seems to pretty much encapsulate everything Schreker was capable of doing. Falletta maintains a grand, sweeping Romantic mood throughout, concluding with a rousing dance.

In all, while Schreker probably didn't mine much new territory here nor create much that listeners will take with them for long, he did provide an entertaining assortment of styles, much of which is hard to dislike. More important, Ms. Falletta gives us a refreshingly clear-eyed glimpse into a long-forgotten composer who deserves a second look.

Producer Wolfram Nehls and engineer Ekkehard Stoffregen recorded the music at the Grosser Sendesaal des RBB, Berlin, Germany in June 2017. The sound is natural, as opposed to overly close, bright, edgy, or distant. Speaking of distance, though, there is a good sense of depth to the orchestra and a fairly wide stereo spread. The frequency response does not favor any part of the spectrum too much, unless you count a sometimes prominent peak in the lower treble range. Detailing is good, with instruments standing out well yet still being reasonably warm and resonant. Dynamics appear a little too constricted for absolute realism, and bass could be deeper, so it's really not what I'd call audiophile sound; just pleasantly listenable, if a tad soft, sound.


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

Feb 6, 2019

Gade: Jealousy (CD review)

Suites, Tangos & Waltzes. Matthias Aeschbacher, Odense Symphony Orchestra. Dacapo Records 6.220509.

When I first started listening to this album, I expected mainly to enjoy one of the most popular tangos ever written, "Jalousie." What I did not expect was to find some of the best audio I'd heard in quite a long while.

Originally released on the Marco Polo label (now issued by Dacapo), the engineers recorded the music fairly close up yet with plenty of bloom. The middle section of the ensemble displays good depth, as a typical orchestral setup would, while the stereo spread to the sides is quite wide. The disc was a part of a Marco Polo series called "Danish Light Music," and while the musical content might be relatively lightweight, there is obviously nothing light about the arrangements or sonics.

Matthias Aeschbacher
Anyway, the Danish violinist and composer Jacob Gade (1879-1963) wrote his famous tango, "Jalousie 'Tango Tzigane,'" in 1925 as part of the musical accompaniment for the silent film Don Q: Son of Zorro. According to Wikipedia, "The composer claimed that the mood of the piece had been inspired by his reading a sensational news report of a crime of passion, and 'jealousy' became fixed in his mind."

Here, Maestro Matthias Aeschbacher and the Odense Symphony Orchestra take it at a more graceful gait than I have heard it done before, and there is less edge to it and more nobility than I would have thought possible. In fact, they make it sound quite grand in this big, flowing rendition.

The album includes a second tango by Gade called "Romanesca," one he wrote in 1933, a few years after "Jalousie." It, too, is quite good, but it never achieved the attention of the earlier work. Still, Aeschbacher gives it due attention.

In addition, the collection contains other Gade works, like "Leda and the Swan," a short ballet; "Rhapsodietta," "Wedding at Himmelpind," "Valse Capriccio," "Copenhagen Life Waltz," and "Douces Secrets Waltz." Most of these pieces receive their première recordings here, and all of them are equally charming.

This is a surprising and highly recommendable disc.


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

Feb 3, 2019

Bernstein: Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety" (CD review)

Krystian Zimerman, piano; Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic. DG 483 5539.

First, the good news: The album offers the music of one of the world's finest composer-conductor-pianists, Leonard Bernstein; played by one of the world's finest pianists, Krystian Zimerman; conducted by one of the world's finest conductors, Sir Simon Rattle; accompanied by one of the world's finest orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic; and recorded by the world's oldest continuously operating record label, Deutsche Grammophon.

The bad news: DG or DG's producers or Simon Rattle himself decided to recorded the album live; that is, before a live audience. This was Bernstein's wont during his later years, and it has been Rattle's wont for many years as well. They would no doubt say recording live better captures the spirit and spontaneity of the moment; I would say it usually sounds worse than a studio recording; that is, without an audience.

Whatever, Bernstein (1918-1990) completed his Symphony No. 2, "The Age of Anxiety" for piano and orchestra in 1949, revising it in 1965. He subtitled the two-part composition after W.H. Auden's Pulitzer Prizewinning poem of the same name. Bernstein intended that the two parts be performed without pause, although there are a number of subsections (variations) plus a prologue that pretty much mirror Auden's lengthy verse. Here's a run-down of the parts:

Part I:
The Prologue: Lento moderato

The Seven Ages: Variations 1–7
1. L'istesso tempo
2. Poco più mosso
3. Largamente, ma mosso
4. Più mosso
5. Agitato
6. Poco meno mosso
7. L'istesso tempo

The Seven Stages: Variations 8–14
8. Molto moderato, ma movendo
9. Più mosso (Tempo di Valse)
10. Più mosso
11. L'istesso tempo
12. Poco più vivace
13. L'istesso tempo
14. Poco più vivace

Part II
The Dirge: Largo
The Masque: Extremely Fast
The Epilogue: L'istesso temp - Adagio; Andante; Con moto

Krystian Zimerman
Yes, that's quite a lot for one "symphony" to cover. According to Wikipedia, the poem deals with "man's quest to find substance and identity in a shifting and increasingly industrialized world. Set in a wartime bar in New York City, Auden uses four characters--Quant, Malin, Rosetta, and Emble--to explore and develop his themes." Bernstein attempted to establish a musical relationship with those subjects.

When Bernstein celebrated his seventieth birthday, he invited Krystian Zimerman to perform the solo piano part with him. Thirty years later, we have Zimerman doing it again, here with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. Incidentally, this live recording also marked Rattle's final performance as the Berlin orchestra's chief conductor.

The album begins with a two-minute interview excerpt with Bernstein that is not too distracting. At least you can bypass it. Rattle's interpretation of the music is probably as exacting and as emotional as one could want. Frankly, I've never cared much for the work; one is hard-pressed to find much peace or harmony in it, but that is the point, of course, the "anxiety" of the title. Zimerman tells us in a booklet note that Bernstein never played the symphony the same way twice; there were always shifts and turns in the way he handled it. Zimerman called Bernstein's way with it "daring," and he says Rattle approaches the music in the same way. Apparently, it was an improvisational spirit the two conductors shared, and certainly Bernstein's score allows for any number of different readings.

So Rattle's realization is no doubt as good as any and shows real imagination in its handling of complex sections, especially the jazz interludes. Zimerman's piano, which is front and foremost throughout much of the proceedings should be considered authoritative as well, given the pianist's association with the piece and its composer. And the Berlin Philharmonic remain one of the world's treasures, even if the live recording doesn't fully do them justice.

Producer Christoph Franke and engineer Rene Moller recorded the symphony live in the Berliner Philharmonie, June 2018. The audience is as quiet as one could expect, helped by the close-up recording, I'm sure, and probably a bit of noise reduction. The sound is mostly warm and comfortable, despite its closeness. It's also exceptionally dynamic, so when big crescendos enter, they are, well, big. They are also a touch hard at the high end, but nothing of serious concern. I can't say there's much depth to the orchestra, either, except for the occasional percussion part; it just seems one big entity surrounding the piano. Thankfully, the engineers have edited out any final applause.


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa