Apr 28, 2019

Masterpiece II (XRCD24 review)

Touching folklore music. Mario Suzuki, guitar; Masao Okada, guitar; Miyuki Fujimoto, guitar; Susumu Nishizaki, piano. Master Music XRCD24-NT021.

First of all, I'm not sure why this 2017 album bears the title "Masterpiece II," unless it's because it follows an album guitarist Mario Suzuki made ten years earlier called "Masterpiece I." Certainly, there are no actual "masterpieces" or classics on the program unless the producers are engaging in a bit of hyperbole. Second, I'm not sure why the album bears the subtitle "Touching folklore music," since it appears Mr. Suzuki wrote all of the selections himself, thus negating the notion of folklore referring to traditional songs or stories handed down by people from generation to generation. I'm going to assume here that Mr. Suzuki is a folklorist the way Bob Dylan is a folk singer. None of which makes any difference in the least because this is a terrifically well recorded album of pleasantly performed guitar music that is sure to impress (and soothe) almost anyone.

Admittedly, I was not familiar with Mr. Suzuki before this album, so I looked up some information about him. According to Elusive Disc, "Mario Suzuki is a writer, composer and excellent guitar player! Suzuki is an extraordinary individual who you may not have heard of... but once you hear him play, he is hard to forget. Folklore guitarra is the traditional Spanish folk guitar music popular in the Spanish speaking countries in South America. It also includes contemporary guitar music which carries on much of the tradition of the folklore guitar music. It is of a completely different type either from American style modern folk music or pop folklore band music.

"Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1947 Mario Suzuki is a native of Japan. He has learned music composition and folklore guitar playing from Mr. Atsumasa Nakabayashi. He also learned folklore playing from both Jesusbenites (president of Mexican folklore guitarra association) and master folklore guitarist Eduardo Falu in Argentine. Mario has composed amazingly more than 500 pieces of folklore music."

On the present album, Mr. Suzuki plays either alone or with accompanists Masao Okada, guitar; Miyuki Fujimoto, guitar; and Susumu Nishizaki, piano. Here's a rundown of their program:

1. Journey
2. Whispering
3. Poem
4. In Breezing
5. Thinking of You
6. Cinema (New Snow Village) Theme
7. Memory Of Arashiyama
8. At Hotel La Mirador
9. Elapsed Waltz
10. Feelings
11. In Granada
12. Night Goes On
13. Remembering of You
14. Reminiscence
15. Monologue
16. Voice of Wave

Mario Suzuki
Because the booklet notes are mostly in Japanese and what aren't in Japanese are poorly translated into English, it was a little hard to get the full story on these melodies. Nevertheless, the music speaks for itself. It's quiet music, serene, tranquil, romantic, and appropriately sentimental. What's more, Suzuki plays with delicacy and finesse. The performances from all of the artists involved are fluid and graceful, caressing the music with subtlety and charm. One could hardly ask more from the performers.

While I'm still not persuaded that these tunes are quite "masterpieces," I cannot deny their peaceful beauty. Nor can I deny the audiophile quality of JVC's remastering for Master Music. I just wish the total time for the album, forty-three minutes, had been a little longer.

Producers Kazuo Kiuchi and Shizuo Nomiyama and engineer Yoshihiko Kannari recorded the music at Onkio Haus Studio (aka Onkyo House), Tokyo in November 2017. Tohru Kotetsu mastered the compact disc at JVC Mastering Center, Japan in January 2018 using XRCD24/K2 technology. A further note adds that "This album was directly recorded in half inch analog tape, 15ips. Mastered utilizing JVC 24bit AD converter with Digital K2, Rubidium clock."

That seems impressive, but does the album actually sound as good as what's written about the processing? Well, it sounds pretty good, that's for sure. Indeed, it's one of the finest-sounding guitar albums I've ever heard. The instruments have a warm, smooth, natural appearance, much like hearing them live in the room with you. Recorded on analog tape (and remastered digitally), the sound betrays no digital edge. The miking is somewhat close in order to capture a full fidelity dynamic range and transient impact, yet it's not objectionably close. The duets and trios are especially well spaced across the sound stage, and the room reflections are well judged. This is an audiophile disc, to be sure, and as such it probably sounds better in accordance with the quality of one's playback equipment.

You can find Master Music products at some of the best prices at Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/


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

Apr 24, 2019

Haydn: Cello Concertos in C and D (CD review)

Also, "Lo speziale" (Overture). Han-Na Chang, cello; Giuseppe Sinopoli, Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden. EMI 7243 5 56535 2.

This Haydn disc did double duty in its several weeks of evaluation prior to my writing these comments, serving not only as a usual test subject but as background music for several dinner gatherings. Like a coincidentally similar disc of material from Steven Isserlis and Roger Norrington on RCA, I found this EMI issue (now released by Warner Classics) delightful through and through, and I look forward to many years of continued listening to its charming melodies.

Haydn's bracing Cello Concerto in C that opens the program makes an engaging contrast to the more serene Concerto in D. Between them is the three-movement Overture from Haydn's comic opera Lo speziale, an animated, if somewhat repetitive, work.

Han-Na Chang
Ms. Chang's playing is light and lyrical, particularly complementing the Concerto in D. The Dresden Staatskapelle remain one of the world's great orchestras, and Maestro Giuseppe Sinopoli leads them through the music with little fuss. While it is perhaps true that some listeners would have liked more forward, maybe more idiosyncratic interpretations than the ones presented here, I doubt that most classical-music fans will find much to criticize. These are elegant, poised performances rather than overtly virtuosic ones.

The recording, originally issued by EMI in 1998, sounds well balanced throughout, with the cello realistically placed, a little close but not dominating. The orchestra and cello both have good definition and immediacy, yet they retain a warm aural bloom. Imaging, too, is good, though not so precise in the localization of individual supporting instruments as on some older, more modestly-miked recordings.

I'm glad I don't personally have to make a choice between this disc and the Isserlis/Norrington one I had on hand at the time, but if I did I would probably choose this one for its slightly more natural sound and its sweeter, gentler approach. Then, too, there is Jacqueline DuPre's EMI/Warner disc, which also has it merits. Nonetheless, this disc from Chang/Sinopoli is hard to resist; I recommend all three for purely casual, relaxing, and highly pleasurable listening.


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

Apr 21, 2019

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (CD review)

Also, Debussy: La Mer. Jaap van Zweden, New York Philharmonic. Decca Gold B0029690-02.

In 2018 Dutch conductor and violinist Jaap van Zweden (b. 1960) became the twenty-sixth Music Director of the prestigious New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842, one of America's oldest orchestras. Maestro van Zweden also leads the Hong Kong Philharmonic and guest conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, and a host of others. He's a busy man, and this 2018 Sony release marks his second for Decca with the New York Phil.

In van Zweden's first recording for Decca with the NYPO he conducted Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. Here he is doing Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps ("The Rite of Spring") and Debussy's La Mer ("The Sea"). He obviously wanted to start things off on the right foot by choosing to do some of the basic repertoire's most-popular, almost-can't-miss items. Still, with so much competition in this material, he's sure to run into some detractors.

Anyway, as you know, Russian composer, pianist, and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) caused quite a stir when he premiered his ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913. The ballet (and, to be fair, the choreography) so shocked Paris audiences that many of them booed and headed for the doors. By now, the world has pretty much begun to take the avant-garde nature of Stravinsky's music for granted, but it was groundbreaking in its day.

The work's subtitle, "Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts," pretty much says it all. The story involves various primitive rituals celebrating the approach of spring, after which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. Grim and heady stuff, and certainly not the kind of music for the weak of heart, either on the part of the audience or the conductor. My own favorite recording of the piece remains Leonard Bernstein's, leading this very same orchestra in 1958. So van Zweden has some heavy lifting to keep up with the old master.

Jaap van Zweden
However, it's not that van Zweden doesn't try. This is music that a conductor must take with a certain abandon, and van Zweden does that on occasion. Those occasions are few and far between, however, no matter how raucous the conductor makes them appear. For the most part van Zweden seems content merely to keep order. He takes a rather leisurely approach throughout most of the score, building a degree of appropriate atmosphere, to be, sure, and then letting loose in a few wildly loud sections. Although one can still feel the tensions and excitement in the music, as a whole it all seems a bit forced, even awkwardly so at times as transitions seem too abrupt and climaxes too hurried.

The second selection on the disc is La Mer by French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918). In what he called "Three symphonic sketches for orchestra," Debussy drew inspiration, he said, from art, "preferring the seascapes available in painting and literature" to an actual ocean. Whatever, he managed to convey some vivid impressions of the sea. The three movements are "From dawn to noon (or midday) on the sea," taken very slowly and animated little by little; "Play of the Waves," an animated allegro; and, perhaps most famously, "Dialogue of the wind and the sea" (or "Dialogue between wind and waves"), animated and tumultuous, easing up very slightly at the end.

Personally, I liked van Zweden's handling of the Debussy piece a little more than I liked his work in the Stravinsky. Again, van Zweden is slower in all three movements than any of the conductors on my comparison discs (Stokowski, Karajan, Previn, Simon, Haitink, and Giulini), yet van Zweden's steady pace makes for a different kind of vividness that can at times be appealing. It's a calmer sea in a lot of ways than the one imagined by other conductors, yet it's one that remains filled with unexpected, if not always beautiful, magic.

If anything, though, van Zweden's handling of Debussy is too static and commonplace to be of much competition for the aforementioned conductors and recordings. I'd say this van Zweden effort is more of a memento of the conductor's early days with the New York orchestra, a kind of postcard for the ensemble's many admirers.

Producers Lawrence Rock and Mark Travis and engineer Lawrence Rock recorded the music at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City, in September and October 2018. Nowhere on the packaging or in the booklet notes does Decca explicitly tell us this is a live recording, but they do say "The concerts on October 4-6, 2018, were made possible by generous support from The Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation," implying that they may have recorded at least the Debussy live in concert. Maybe they assume that so many classical orchestral recordings are made live these days, they don't even have to mention it. Whatever, I'm going to assume they recorded both works live.

Nevertheless, the business of "Is it live or isn't it?" may be a moot point as the sound is not quite vintage Decca to begin with. It's fairly bright and sharp-edged, slightly too close for comfort, and a bit glaring at times. In fact, I found a few of the bigger, louder sections rather uneasy on the ears. It's not entirely bad sound, mind you, and the percussion is impressive; but it's not as persuasive as the sound provided for Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic well over sixty years earlier. Go figure.


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

Apr 17, 2019

On Evaluating Audio Equipment...

2018 marked the 70th year of the high fidelity sound era. 

By Bryan Geyer

Jack Mullin with Ampex 200s, 1948
Initial public recognition swelled in early 1940 with release of the movie Fantasia, but it waned with the approach of WW II. Later, in 1946, returning veterans--notably Major Jack Mullin--brought news of the amazing German Magnetophon tape recorders. When radio celebrity Bing Crosby berated his broadcasters to upgrade their recording capability, fledgling six man Ampex Corporation answered. Then, in 1948, Columbia released the first “long play” 33.3 rpm vinyl records, and the drive to bring “hi-fi” to the home went full bore.

From that start and well into the mid-1970s, hi-fi progress was propelled by avid “seat-of-the-pants” enthusiasts who scrupulously applied Ohm’s law logic and test-and-measure diligence. Local audio clubs bubbled with chatter about circuit design. Technical paper presentations were well attended. Kit building and home-rolled DIY projects were popular. And science-based magazines like Audio, High Fidelity, Stereo Review, Popular Electronics, Radio-Electronics, and Electronics World all flourished. 

As the consumer base spread, a new breed of subjectivist reviewer gained recognition, nurtured by Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. Many of these contributors were technical neophytes, but so were their readers. The traditional need for qualified rigor withered. Science was out, ears were in, and personal perception became the arbiter of what’s good/what’s not. The feedback that has followed has been both bewildering and discordant. There are bizarre tales of $300 replacement AC line cords that instantly improve the sound from a power amplifier, and $500 speaker cables (+ $200 connector cords) that accomplish equivalent aural wonders. How can such folly ever be reconciled with good engineering practice? Is there some plausible explanation? Is this the sort of error-in-judgment that can stem from confirmation bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias)? Or could this be a consequence of too much audiophile groupthink (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink)?

The origin of this dichotomy might lie here: http://www.pnas.org/content/110/36/14580. Clearly, this 2013 study shows that visual cues convey far more impact than any audible evidence. For example, your newly purchased AC Line Regenerator box will surely make your entire audio system sound better--as long as you can see the box. In sum, your eyes will implant a more vivid and persistent impression than anything that you hear. Did those gold-on-titanium connectors and teflon coated speaker wire truly improve the sound, or did their presence just make it seem so? (Yes, all readily answered by A/B/X testing, but blind comparison trials are not popular with audiophiles.)

Aside from grossly over-compressed pop-market CDs, I’ve often wondered how any listener could possibly contend that vinyl playback was preferable to standard redbook CD sound. The audible superiority of the digital CD disc is overwhelming when compared to the archaic capability of an analog LP record. How can such obvious advantage not be instantly apparent? Well, now I know. Just viewing that massive turntable and exotic tonearm/cartridge can implant the aural memory of sounds that were never really heard. A new and convincing (and artificial) reality can emerge.

It’s important to keep this visual dominance in mind when evaluating new equipment. Apply careful technical analysis—assess both intent and execution—and then conduct your audition. But know that the audible evidence is likely to be of little merit; it will get swamped by what you’ve seen.

BG (February 2019)

Apr 14, 2019

Symphonic Dances (CD review)

Music of Copland, Ravel, and Stravinsky. David Bernard, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. Recursive Classics RC2061415.

The first time I saw this album title, "Symphonic Dances," I thought immediately of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, but it was not to be. These are ballet suites performed by a symphonic chamber orchestra: Copland's Appalachian Spring, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe, and Stravinsky's Firebird. Good enough, especially when they're played by Maestro David Bernard and his Park Avenue Chamber Symphony.

As you may remember, the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, formed in 1999, includes mainly players who do other things for a living (like being hedge-fund managers, philanthropists, CEO's, movie magnates, UN officials, and so on). They're not exactly amateurs, but they're not full-time, paid musicians, either. Fortunately, their playing dispels any doubts about the quality of their work; everyone involved with the orchestra deserves praise. Nor is the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony a particularly small group; it's about the size of a full symphony orchestra. The main thing is they play very, very well.

First up on their program is the suite from Appalachian Spring by American composer, writer, teacher, and conductor Aaron Copland (1900-1990). He premiered his ballet in 1944, and the following year it won a Pulitzer Prize in Music. The Suite is in eight parts, telling the story of American pioneers of the 1800s celebrating after building a new Pennsylvania farmhouse. Among the central characters are a bride, a groom, a pioneer woman, a preacher, and his congregation.

As always, the Park Avenue players are well up the task, performing like the best purely professional orchestras. They always seem to demonstrate a stylish precision. Moreover, Maestro Bernard leads with a deft hand. He's sensitive when necessary, as in the beginning of the Copland piece and in interludes throughout, and he knows how to handle the biggest climaxes and most energetic themes. When "Simple Gifts" arrives, we expect it to be something special, and it is. Bernard and his team avoid sentimentality and play it with joy and love.

David Bernard
Second up is the Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe, premiered in 1912 by French composer, pianist, and conductor Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Ravel described it as a "symphonie chorégraphique" (a choreographic symphony). He based the music on Greek myth, although one really doesn't have to follow the story line to appreciate Ravel's profusely impressionist music.

Bernard ensures that Ravel's score exudes the proper fairy-tale magic and mysticism it deserves. The textures are always lush and luminous, the story unfolding at a steady but not insistent pace. When the excitement develops, it, too, is properly judged--not too indulgent, not too overdone, yet with conviction and sprightly animation.

The final item on the program is The Firebird Suite by the Russian-born composer, pianist, and conductor Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). The Firebird was the first (1910) of three acclaimed ballets Stravinsky produced in an astonishingly short time, with Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) following closely He based The Firebird on various Russian folk tales he'd read concerning a magical bird that could either help or harm those who captured him. The story itself is an adventure involving a young prince, a group of lovely young maidens, an inevitable love interest, an argument, and the conflict we would expect, with a final resolution courtesy of the bird. It's all very exotic, colorful, warmhearted, and exciting.

Maestro Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Orchestra do Stravinsky justice. This is music that, as the booklet observes, should "take the listener by storm." Under Bernard's direction, it does. Yet, again, it isn't a totally bombastic storm. It's a gentle storm when necessary, an alternation of calm and turbulence. It comes out one of the most satisfying Firebird Suites I've heard, and makes me wish Bernard had done (or will do) the complete score.

My only gripe is really a mere quibble: Although Recursive Classics provide plenty of tracks, one for each movement of each work, they don't provide actual track numbers anywhere, nor do they provide timings for each selection. It's a curious oversight.

Audio engineers Joseph Patrych, Antonio Oliart, and Joel Watts recorded the music at DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York City in January 2017 and Good Shepard-Faith Presbyterian Church, NYC in February 2018. The sound is clear and clean, with a nice ambient bloom. It's also quite dynamic, with strong impact, which further adds to the realism (just listen to that "Danse Infernale"). The tonal balance seems ideal as well, with good bass and treble extension, and there's a fair sense of depth and space to the soundstage. Nothing to complain about here.


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

Apr 10, 2019

Moeran: Symphony in G minor (CD Review)

Also, Sinfonietta. David Lloyd-Jones, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.555837.

By Karl W. Nehring

Anyone who has bothered to take a look at my photo (which was taken a few years back, by the way) has no doubt surmised that I am not a fellow still in the bloom of youth. When it comes to recordings, I sometimes find myself searching my memory to try to recall whether I have once owned this or that symphony or whatever--and yes, I have occasionally brought home an interesting-looking CD only to discover that I already had a copy of it gathering dust on a shelf or in some pile stacked up somewhere in my terminally messy listening room. In the case of this Naxos recording of the Moeran Symphony in G minor, however, I knew for certain that I did not have a duplicate CD tucked away somewhere.

What I remembered was that way back in the day (late 70s/early 80s, when I was in grad school) I once owned an LP version of the Moeran Symphony in G minor and that I had liked it.  I believe the record label was Lyrita, although I probably had a Musical Heritage Society version (plain white covers – remember those?) rather than the original Lyrita--I just cannot remember after all this time. I do recall that the disc-mate was the same as on this Naxos release, Moeran's Sinfonietta, which means I must have had the version recorded by Sir Adrian Boult. Over the intervening years, I had never picked up a CD version of the Moeran, but for whatever reason, one day a short while back I suddenly found myself remembering that I had enjoyed the work and deciding to look into picking it up on CD. Further disclosure: I could not even really remember what I had liked about the symphony. I recalled that it was British, that it was pleasant, and that I had not heard it in ages. I seemed to recall that it was rather slow, quiet, dreamy music, and that I had also enjoyed the Sinfonietta, although I could not recall anything about it. When I logged into Amazon and found a used copy of this Lloyd-Jones CD recording available for $0.86, I of course immediately placed my order.

David Lloyd-Jones
My first surprise was that the Symphony in G minor is neither really slow, nor quiet, nor what I would describe as dreamy. No, it is an energetic work, pulsing with tuneful phrases and insistent rhythms. The opening movement is lively and playful, outgoing, yet reflective. Moeran was interested in folk tunes, and you can sense that as you listen to this lively Allegro. The second movement, marked Lento, is more brooding, although "brooding" may be a misleading term. This is not Shostakovich-like anguish, it is more like the brooding sighs of someone who is weary after a long hike in nature, someone reflecting on the beauty he or she has seen, but also recalling the evidences of death and decay found along the way. The third movement, marked Vivace, seems to have been influenced by the music of Sibelius--not that there is anything wrong with that. It is lively, spirited--but there are still moments of reflection and wonder. The final movement, marked Lento – Allegro Molto, begins in reflection but gather steam as it moves along, finally ending with assertive chords that bring back memories of the ending of the Sibelius Fifth without sounding plagiaristic. I humbly admit my brief sketch of this work is not very illuminating, but I must say that if you are a fan of the symphonies of Vaughan Williams, then you will probably really enjoy this symphony by Moeran. It is a gem.

The Sinfonietta is also well worth a listen. Playful and exuberant, it is arranged rather unusually: a theme and six variations are sandwiched between an opening Allegro con brio and a closing Allegro risoluto. Once again, the music is by turns playful and introspective, but always colorful and tuneful.

The recorded sound captured by the eminently reliable engineer Mike Hatch is well-balanced and enjoyable. There is no sense of this being a sonic spectacular, just a well-recorded session of some truly enjoyable orchestral music.


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

Apr 7, 2019

Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3 "Organ" (CD review)

Also, Trois tableaux symphoniques d-apres La foi; Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila. Thierry Fischer, Utah Symphony. Hyperion CDA68201.

This disc looked pretty promising when it arrived for review. The "Organ" Symphony is always a crowd pleaser; in my experience Hyperion produces good-sounding recordings; and I had heard good things about Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer's previous work with Saint-Saens. So it was a little disappointing that I wasn't entirely knocked out by Hyperion's live sound or by Maestro Fischer's somewhat reserved reading of so flamboyant a score.

Let's get to the main subject first, the Symphony No. 3 in C-minor, Op. 78, written in 1886 by French composer, organist, pianist, and conductor Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). It's no doubt the most-popular thing Saint-Saens ever wrote and to this day remains one of the most popular pieces of classical music of any kind.

Saint-Saëns called the work "a symphony with organ," and remarked, "I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again." Apparently he knew what he was talking about because even though he lived another thirty-five years, he never wrote another symphony, organ or otherwise.

The composer divides the work into two major parts, with two divisions in each part. It's an odd arrangement but essentially works out to a conventional four-movement symphony. The first movement has always seemed to me the least distinguished, the least characterful, but Maestro Fischer and the Utah Symphony do their best to make it seem as purposeful as possible. Nevertheless, it still comes off a bit mundane compared to the rest of the work. For his part, Fischer increases the tempo and dynamic contrasts as he goes along and builds a decent head of steam by the end of it.

Thierry Fischer
The second movement Adagio always reminds me of great, warm, soft waves flowing over and around one's body on a sunny, tropical beach. Here's where the organ (Paul Jacobs, organist) makes its first entry, coming in with what are usually huge, gentle, undulating washes of sound. Fischer makes it warm and gentle enough, to be sure, he's a most-sensitive conductor, but I didn't think the organ carried the weight it could have to make much of an impression. Plus, Fischer's relaxed pace may be too slow for a lot of listeners. It's one thing to be sensitive and another to be lax.

The two movements that comprise the finale should be fiery and exhilarating, if not a little bombastic, with the organ blazing the trail. Here, Fischer comes to life, yet without exaggerating the music. Those folks who think Saint-Saens overdid himself in the final passages may appreciate Fischer's calmer demeanor in taming and refining the score. Then, too, the organ finally makes its presence known (what with its going into hiding in the recording's second movement). That being said, I wasn't exactly thrilled or inspired by Fischer's performance as I have been by conductors like Louis Fremaux, Charles Munch, or Jean Martinon. Fischer is a little too overly refined, too sedate, too serious for my taste.

Accompanying the symphony are a couple of other items by Saint-Saens, and they actually precede the main course. They are Trois tableaux symphonique d'apres La foi ("Three symphonic scenes from The Faith") and the Bacchanale from the Samson et Dalila. The first of these, the "Scenes," the composer took from his incidental music to the play The Faith, although one should not take them as literally describing any specific action from the play. Whatever, I enjoyed these "Scenes" best of all on the program because Fischer's natural sensitivity seems perfectly suited to their content, and I also admired the exotic color Fischer effected in the Bacchanale.

Producer and engineer Tim Handley recorded the music live at Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah in December 2017. The audience is either unusually silent or the engineer carefully removed all evidence of audience noise, including applause, so the sound doesn't suffer much from people's presence. There is, however, a degree of smooth roundness to the sound that may have something to do with noise reduction; I don't know. Audio levels are on the low side, perhaps to accommodate the wide dynamics. Still, the actual dynamic impact seems a tad muted except in the Bacchanale. Depth perception is good; detailing is fine without being harsh or steely; orchestral hall bloom is moderate at best; and bass, while slightly limited, is at least adequate. The whole thing, though, appears more than a bit soft and veiled, again maybe to reduce the effects of the audience's presence.


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

Apr 3, 2019

On Assuring Adequate AC Power

How to assess your audio system’s full AC power line requirements, and how to determine whether your AC power line capacity is sufficient.

By Bryan Geyer

It’s important to confirm that you have an adequate AC current reserve to optimally power your audio system. This means more than just being confident that you can push the volume up without causing a circuit breaker to trip. The function of a circuit breaker relates to safety—not line quality or line stability. To assure that your AC supply is not plagued by load-induced voltage drops it’s desirable to verify that your audio system presents a drain that’s within the traditional guideline for power line current density. The conventional “good design” limits for this are as described here: http://www.powerstream.com/Wire_Size.htm.

You can generally determine your household’s wiring gauge by inspecting your circuit breaker. The current practice is to use AWG 14 Romex for a 15 ampere circuit, and AWG 12 Romex for a 20 ampere circuit. Because 20 ampere circuits are habitually routed only to kitchen, bath, and laundry areas, it’s likely that your listening room utilizes 15 amp circuits, hence AWG 14 wiring. By reference to the above, you can see that the classic (it’s ultra-conservative) design guide for AWG 14 wire is 5.9 amperes maximum. If it’s your intent to dedicate that specific circuit exclusively to audio system use, then 5.9 amps max. current drain should be your goal. If you exceed 5.9 amps you will potentially risk “modulating the line”, meaning you could induce brief AC line voltage fluctuations due to the inevitable load changes that your power amplifier imposes as its output shifts. Regardless, I feel that some 50% more current drain is both safe and acceptable if it truly reflects operation at full power output (with no other loads on same circuit). That makes 9 amperes my personal full power ceiling for AWG 14 in-wall wiring with 15 ampere AC circuit breakers.

To calculate your system’s maximum AC current drain, sum the net power (as stated in Watts*) consumed by your components, and divide the total by 120 Vac. That result will approximate the maximum AC operating current. Component power consumption is generally listed in the related performance specifications. Take care to assure that power drain listed for your main amplifier(s) refers to power consumed when operating at full power output into the applicable load impedance.

Better yet, directly measure the net current drain for yourself. Use a Kill-A-Watt P4400 meter; refer: https://shop.p3international.com/p/kill-a-watt.

A NOTE: You can buy top quality molded SJT-type power cords, AWG 14, 16, or 18, custom made to any length, at http://www.stayonline.com/molded-cord-configurator.aspx. The price for a custom SJT power cord is low when compared to the price for a high-end “audiophile-market” power cord, but it’s functionally identical, and it will be properly sized, without unwanted excess.

*Watts apply when considering most audio equipment, but not for AC motors, and not for Class D power amplifiers. (Most self-powered subwoofers use Class D power amps.) Use the Kill-A-Watt P4400 meter to measure the current drain or VA (Volt-Ampere) consumption of turntable/tape motors and Class D amps.

BG (January 2019)

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