Jun 30, 2019

Beethoven: String Quartets, Op. 18, Nos. 4-6 (CD review)

Eybler Quartet. CORO Connections COR16174.

It's probably best to start by reminding you that the Eybler Quartet is a unique group of musicians who play historically informed performances on period instruments. Their Web site describes them as coming "together in late 2004 to explore the works of the first century of the string quartet, with a healthy attention to lesser known composers such as their namesake, Joseph Leopold Edler von Eybler. The group plays on instruments appropriate to the period of the music it performs. Violinist Julia Wedman and violist Patrick G. Jordan are members of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; violinist Aisslinn Nosky is concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society and Principal Guest Conductor of the Niagara Symphony Orchestra; Aisslinn and Julia are also members of I FURIOSI Baroque Ensemble. Cellist Margaret Gay is much in demand as both a modern and period instrument player. The group brings a unique combination of talents and skills: years of collective experience as chamber musicians, technical prowess, experience in period instrument performance and an unquenchable passion for the repertoire."

As of this album, the Eybler Quartet has six albums to their credit, mostly music of Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal, Backofen, and their namesake, the Austrian composer and conductor Joseph Eybler (1765-1846). Here, the Eybler ensemble present volume two of Beethoven's String Quartets, Op. 18, Nos. 4-6, having already done a splendid job with Nos. 1-3. As I said about the group before, if you like chamber music and you like Beethoven, there's plenty of both around, but to hear these early Beethoven quartets played in something approaching what Beethoven himself might have heard (which, given his deteriorating hearing isn't saying a lot), the Eybler group is hard to beat.

Eybler Quartet
Of the sixteen string quartets Beethoven wrote, the six in Op. 18 are the earliest, published in two volumes in 1801, about the time he wrote his Symphony No. 1. He wrote Nos. 4-6 between 1798 and 1800. They are each in four movements, although the movements vary in timing and style from quartet to quartet. Much of the material for the Nos. 4 and 5 Beethoven based either on his own previous compositions or modeled after Mozart, with No. 6 perhaps the most original of all.

Quartet No. 4 projects a sweet youthful bounce together with a more serious almost-operatic gravitas that the Eyblers capitalize on nicely. Beethoven's tempo markings indicate some lively (if pre-metronome) speeds, which the Eyblers are happy to provide. Yet they never sound rushed or frenetic and are quite refreshing throughout. The Eybler's articulation is always crisp, their interactions accomplished, and the sound of their instruments pleasantly agreeable. And did I mention that all four musicians sound virtuosic? They are.

Quartet No. 5 is even sunnier than No. 4, and the Eyblers appear to take great delight in it. There is a fair amount of interaction among the instruments in the second-movement minuet, and it's fun hearing the Eyblers intermingling of voices. The slow-movement theme and variations takes top honors, though, for its sheer inventiveness, and it's hard not to remember it above everything else in the piece.

Quartet No. 6 is maybe the most reminiscent of Mozart's tunes in its first few minutes with allusions to Figaro before going off in different directions. It's certainly the most obvious in its diversity, too, varying from blusteringly comedic to elegantly refined, and from fleetingly quick to serenely contemplative. The Eyblers handle all of these contrasts with relative ease and make everything about Beethoven seem to sparkle anew. They're a joy altogether.

Producer Dan Merceruio and engineer Ron Searles recorded the music at the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Ontario in October 2016. As with their previous Beethoven album, the sound is among the best I've heard in a small-group performance. And as with the previous album, this one is slightly close for my taste, the four performers widely spaced across the sound stage. Otherwise, the sonics are nicely detailed without being bright, hard, or edgy. Indeed, they are quite realistic in their presence, with good dynamics, impact, and definition. It makes for a pleasurable listen.


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

Jun 26, 2019

Dominic Miller: Absinthe (CD review)

By Karl W. Nehring

Dominic Miller, guitar; Santiago Arias, bandoneon; Mike Lindup, keyboard; Nicolas Fiszman, bass; Manu Katché, drums. ECM 2614 6788468.

One glance through the lineup of musicians and you are probably already wondering why this CD is being reviewed in Classical Candor, but trust me, I can give you a couple of good reasons. First, if you want to immediately classify this as a jazz recording, please note that several other jazz recordings have been reviewed on this site. Second, and more importantly, Dominic Miller's Absinthe has a chamber-music sensibility to it that lends itself quite well to being taken seriously as quite akin to what we like to think of as "classical" music. I truly believe that many folks who listen primarily to classical music would find this recording involving and enjoyable.

All of the compositions on Absinthe are by Dominic Miller, who writes in the liner notes that he was inspired by Impressionist art, adding that "musically the influences come from the usual sources: Bach, Beatles, etc. Pointless trying to explain music but when you have an idea or concept the music kind of writes itself." Miller, an Argentina-born guitarist who has long been a member of Sting's road band, plays acoustic guitar on Absinthe. His previous album for ECM, Silent Light, was essentially a solo guitar outing, accompanied on a few cuts by some subtle percussion, but Absinthe reveals him not only as a fine guitarist, but also an excellent composer. You might expect an album headed by a guitarist to feature blistering guitar solos, but that is not the case here.  The accent instead is on subtle interplay among the assembled musicians.

Dominic Miller
That mood of interplay is evident from the very first cut, the title cut, which opens with some soft picking on the guitar, then some colorful cymbal splashes, some sweet sounds from the bandoneon, and then the drums and bass kick in, with some subtle seasoning from a synthesizer as the tune rolls on. Miller explains in the liner notes that he thought the pure, expressive sound of the bandoneon (a cousin of the accordion, originally invented in Germany but nowadays most associated with tango music from Argentina and Uruguay – think Astor Piazzolla or Dino Saluzzi) would be appropriate for the musical vision he had in mind.

As the album continues, Miller's guitar and Arias's bandoneon spin some delightful melodies, but Lindup on synths (especially on the cut, "Mixed Blessing") and even Fiszman on bass (check out his subtly melodic picking on the cuts "Verveine" and "Christiana") get a chance to add to the magic, while drummer Katché (a remarkably inventive drummer who has played as both sideman and leader on numerous ECM albums) provides drive and seasoning throughout the ten cuts. The net result of this collaborative musical interplay is an album that truly does sound like a form of chamber music, a jazz album that lovers of classical music might well discover to be an unexpected delight should they be adventurous enough to give it an audition.

The ECM label has long been highly regarded for its excellent sound quality: well balanced, smooth, and clear. All things considered, then -- and I'm sure some of you saw this groaner coming -- Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.


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

Jun 23, 2019

Matthews: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Variations for Strings; Double Concerto for Violin and Viola. Sara Trickey, violin; Sarah-Jane Bradley, viola. Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra and English String Orchestra. Nimbus Alliance NI 6382.

No, not the American pop performer Dave Matthews, founder and leader of the Dave Matthews Band. This is English composer David Matthews (b. 1943), known for his many orchestral, chamber, vocal, and piano works. Although, for that matter, conductor Kenneth Woods could probably do a great job conducting symphonic arrangements of Dave Matthews pieces, too; he seems fully capable of making anything sound good.

Whatever, David Matthews, like fellow British composer Philip Sawyers (another musician Maestro Woods has been recording lately) has the temerity to utilize things like melody, lyricism, and tonal harmony in his music, thereby flying in the face of much modern music and helping not only classical connoisseurs to enjoy it but everyday folks like me to appreciate it as well. In fact, speaking of the symphony here, Matthews says it began as a simple carol for his wife. "One day," he writes, "I was playing it on the piano and, beginning to improvise, I thought "I can turn this into something bigger, and why not a symphony?'" Thus began a journey into his Ninth Symphony.

The program begins, then, with the Symphony No. 9, Opus. 140, which he completed in 2016. It's not a very big symphony, nothing like Beethoven's, Schubert's, Bruckner's, or Mahler's. Instead, it's little more compact and a little less expansive. That is not to say it isn't large, however. The work is in five movements, a central slow movement reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, surrounded by two quick scherzos and bookended by an intriguing opening allegro and capped by a triumphant finale.

Kenneth Woods
The movements are fairly brief, though, and tend to go by rather quickly, with a series of varied tunes in each section. While I wouldn't say the whole is quite the sum of the individual parts, it is fun as it goes along, and Matthews hardly lets a moment go by in it that isn't fully charged. Or maybe that's partly Woods's contribution as well. Certainly, he does up the music with passion and color. Memorable? Not really, yet fun.

Next, we get Matthews's Variations for Strings, Opus. 40, written in 1986, based on Bach's "Die Nacht ist kommen" ("Night's darkness falleth"). The words are a "prayer for a peaceful night," so one might expect peaceful music, and for the most part it is. Maybe surprisingly, there are a number of jazz inflections throughout the piece, as well as contrasting pulses and rhythms. It's quite charming and original, actually.

The disc closes with Matthews's Double Concerto for violin, viola and strings, Op. 122, from 2013. The two soloists have a remarkably friendly rivalry in exchanges throughout the work, making it a delight in the hands of two such gifted musicians as Sara Trickey on violin and Sarah-Jane Bradley on viola. Maestro Woods and his string orchestra pretty much let them have full rein and do their best to just stay out of the way. Seriously, it's a terrific effort and became my favorite piece on the disc.

Producer and engineer Simon Fox-Gal recorded the symphony in May 2018 at St. George's, Bristol; and producer and engineer Philip Rowlands recorded the variations and double concerto in October 2018 at The Priory Church, Great Malvern. The first thing noticeable in the sound of the full orchestra is its spatial characteristics. It's not just nicely spread out across the speakers but nicely arranged front to back, with a good sense of ambient bloom from the acoustic. Then, too, the frequency response is wide, the dynamics realistic, the detailing sharply delineated, and the whole affair entirely lifelike. The string music, employing far fewer players, is understandably lighter and more transparent, and it appears a bit closer. Whatever, it's all good, enjoyable sound.


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

Jun 19, 2019

On Vacuum Tubes—Then and Now...

By Bryan Geyer

I returned from Korea in early 1954, and soon became absorbed in the new “hi fi” craze. Of course, that meant embracing vacuum tubes. Transistors were very new—not ready for prime time—so tubes were the sole option. Tube failures were common, and their heat would often cook some of the adjacent components, but I reasoned that those faults could be my gain if I learned basic radio/TV repair, so I built (from kits) a tube tester, a signal oscillator, a simple oscilloscope, and I bought a new Simpson model 269 multimeter. That marked the start of my 32 year career in the electronics industry.

Do recognize that vacuum tubes are not high precision parts. Why not? Well, to start, all of the tube makers present their products only by listing generic “average” or “typical” performance data. They don’t provide (or control) any of the specific operating characteristics*, so vacuum tubes of a given type can vary widely. Further, all tubes exhibit a constant, gradual, and persistent life cycle drift; plate current fades, grid bias shifts. So a tube’s functional day-to-day performance is never precisely the same. This natural cyclic drift starts when the tube initially enters service, and ends when the tube dies from cathode depletion failure—barring all of the many other modes of premature demise that might intervene (e.g.: open filaments, vacuum leaks, gassing, microphonics, atypical distortion, excessive hum/noise, and damage from external mechanical shock). As a consequence, vacuum tube circuits are not the best means to assure stable circuit performance; there’s simply no optimally constant operating phase. Regardless, for some 70 years tubes were all that we had. Circuit design got stale toward the end of that era because the chassis space available for tube sockets limited potential complexity; also because tubes are so woefully inefficient. But creative innovation blossomed when PNP silicon power transistors finally debuted in the mid 1970s, thereby making complementary differential solid state symmetry a plausible alternative.

Personal angst: In 1963 I bought a Fisher FM200B tuner, one of the premier signal-seekers of the day, but its IF stages exhibited incessant drift due to tube aging. I had to perform tedious IF realignment annually. And my 1962 Marantz 8B stereo power amplifier needed semi-annual output stage bias adjustment to hold the measured IM distortion inside 0.5%, plus I had to install four new EL34 output tubes every 2 or 3 years; that’s costly! Indeed, I got so hot to dump vacuum tubes that I finally built my own solid state power amps in 1976, when PNP silicon power transistors finally became affordable. (Refer p.39 of https://www.americanradiohistory.com/Archive-Radio-Electronics/70s/1973/Radio-Electronics-1973-03.pdf.) Hey, I was free at last!

Vacuum tube commerce has collapsed in the ensuing 43 years. All of the domestic, British, Dutch, and German producers are now either defunct (like Tung-Sol, my employer from ’57-’60), or they ceased making tubes decades ago. The entire world market for audio-type tubes is now confined solely to the needs of select audiophiles and guitar buffs, and currently fulfilled only by obscure producers in China, Russia, and Slovakia. All are without previous market recognition. The quality, consistency, and reliability of product from those arcane foreign sources is speculative, and supply will persist only as long as there’s viable demand, so the outlook for affordable access to replacement stock looks dicey. Further, this status prevails at a time when all audio engineers concur that the load-invariant advantage assured by driving the loudspeaker from an ultra-low impedance source is dependent on solid-state design. (The Zout for a solid-state power amp runs < 1/10th of the Zout for a tube amp.) Today’s audio-type vacuum tubes represent the detritus of a dead technology; it’s time to move on.

*Refer any vacuum tube specification sheet. For example, here’s the published data for type 6550, a common power output tube: https://shop.ehx.com/catalog/addimages/6550-tung-sol.pdf. Note that there are no minimum or maximum limits given for any of the various operating characteristics. (This traditional practice is in direct contrast with the semiconductor industry, wherein complete min./max. acceptance criteria is provided for almost every critical parameter on every registered device.)

BG (May 2019)

Jun 16, 2019

French Cello Concertos (CD review)

Saint-Saens, Lalo, Milhaud, Offenbach, Massenet. Hee-Young Lim, cello; Scott Yoo, London Symphony Orchestra. Sony Classical S80425C.

Her current recording, "French Cello Concertos," is the debut album for Korean cellist Hee-Young Lim, who has made quite a name for herself in the past few years. Not only has she won major international competitions, she is Principal Solo Cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the first Korean cello professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She tours as a soloist and recitalist and performs with the world's leading orchestras. It's no wonder, then, that so big and prestigious a record label as Sony Classical wanted to promote her first release.

Supported by conductor Scott Yoo and the London Symphony Orchestra, Ms. Lim performs five well-known cello pieces by French composers: Saint-Saens, Lalo, Milhaud, Offenbach, and Massenet. Not that there is exactly a surplus of cello concertos to play, though. The poor cello, a descendent of the bass violin, didn't find a serious place for itself until well into the Baroque period, and even then it held a limited position. Bach wrote his six cello suites, of course; later Haydn wrote a couple of cello concertos and Beethoven a few cello sonatas. Yet it wasn't until the later Romantic period that the cello began to flourish, with Schumann, Dvorak, and Brahms writing concertos for it. Then, the twentieth century saw a greater blossoming of material for the instrument. Anyway, the major attraction here, Saint-Saens's cello concerto, came somewhat late in the Romantic era, 1872, by which time the cello had firmly established itself as a commonly accepted part of the orchestral picture.

So, the first thing up is the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in A by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). Written in one continuous movement split into three separate sections with interrelated ideas, Saint-Saens's concerto was unconventional for its time. Nevertheless, it became a favorite of cellists and composers everywhere, some of them like Rachmaninov and Shostakovich declaring it the greatest of all cello concertos.

Hee-Young Lim
The concerto keeps the solo instrument in the foreground almost the whole time, and Ms. Lim takes advantage of this situation with playing of steadfast command. Yet unlike so many other soloists, she never tries to dominate the music with the force of her personality. The musical lines are always clean and direct, the passion expressed through the score itself, not her own virtuosity. This is not to say she isn't a marvel to listen to; she is an accomplished musician and the concerto's finale is an amazing whirlwind of notes. But she is also a delicate, introspective musician, and much of her talent is in the nuances of her playing. In other words, while there are more bravura performances you can find, there are none more sensitively committed.

Next, and maybe equally famous, is the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in d minor by Edouard Lalo (1823-92), which he wrote in 1876. He arranged it in a more traditional style than Saint-Saens did his concerto a few years earlier, and perhaps because of its strong hints of Spanish flamenco music, it gets its fair share of performances and recordings. Ms. Lim takes the first two movements at a slightly more leisurely pace than one often hears, and it adds a sweet tone that complements the nature of this Spanish-influenced French music. It's an elegant reading, full of operatic color and character in its first two movements and a whole lot of zest in its final moments.

After that we find the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Darius Milhaud (1892-1974). Written in 1934, its more modern and jazz-inflected disposition is notably different from that of the more Romantic Saint-Saens and Lalo pieces. Milhaud's work relies less on pure melody and more on displays of seemingly indiscriminate mood swings from lyrical tenderness to somber reflection to a nearly cheerful giddiness. The oddness of the music continues despite a lovely opening stretch that Ms. Lim makes the most of before Milhaud starts going in all directions at once. Give Ms. Lim credit for holding the work together so well and having it come through so engagingly.

Following the three concertos, we get two shorter pieces: Les larmes de Jacqueline ("The Tears of Jacqueline") by Jacques Offenbach (1819-80) and the familiar "Meditation" from the opera Thais by Jules Massenet (1842-1912). They are the icing on the cake and bring the program to a satisfying end.

Producer Michael Fine and engineer Jin Choi recorded the music at Abbey Road Studios, London in July 2018. And what a pleasure it is to hear the London Symphony back recording at Abbey Road, the scene of so many of their previous successes. As I said earlier, the cello is in the forefront of the musical activity, which is, I suppose, the way it ought to be. In any case, the sound is precise, well defined, solid, and robust. The cello carries plenty of weight and makes a firm impression on the ear. The orchestra is almost secondary, but it, too, sounds splendid, with clean detailing, strong dynamics, and a realistic sense of presence. In fact, the sound of the LSO reminded me a lot of the sound of their EMI recordings of the late Sixties and Seventies, and that is high praise, indeed.


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

Jun 12, 2019

Arnold: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 (CD review)

Andrew Penny, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Naxos 8.553739.

English composer Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2016) continued to write symphonic music until 1990, when he abruptly stopped, saying he "had done enough." All the while a stubborn Romanticist, Arnold wrote music that steadfastly employed melodies and rhythm at a time when Modernists had shut the door on such anachronisms. Coincidentally, I had written about this same coupling of Arnold's Third and Fourth Symphonies about a year earlier, that time under Vernon Handley on the Conifer label. Now the two symphonies return on a lower-priced Naxos disc that is even more inviting.

The Third Symphony (finished in 1957), divided into three movements, is the least consequential of the two works on the disc. It is pleasant enough, don't get me wrong, but not particularly memorable.

Andrew Penny
The Fourth Symphony (1960), however, will remain in memory, especially for its opening movement, with its overlays of South and Central American percussion tunes. The Vivace ma non troppo that follows also uses a jazzy tune, but slightly more formally structured. The Andantino is the calm before the storm, the end of the finale bursting forth in a most provocative and, as the composer said, "completely crazy" manner.

On a side note, the composer later wrote that the Fourth Symphony was his response to the  1958 Notting Hill race riots. He was, he said, shocked that such a thing could happen in England, and he hoped that his symphony might help to diffuse the problems of racial divide.

The Naxos sound is clear and well defined, easily rivaling the more expensive Conifer disc. Maestro Penny recorded the Third and Fourth Symphonies in June 1996, with the composer in attendance. One could hardly ask for more authoritative readings. In fact, they are among the best Naxos recordings I've heard, so one can hardly go wrong with them.

The sense and value of purchasing low-to-middle priced Naxos releases should be self evident, at least in principle. However, I would add that not all Naxos recordings sound as good as this one, because on the same day I listened to the Arnold disc I also happened to listen to a recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos (Naxos 8.553592) that I found stodgy in performance and dark and murky in sound. Listening before you buy is still the best way to acquire what you are most likely to want to live with; trusted reviews and the recommendations of friends are obviously other good practices. Buying indiscriminately, though, even in so fine a label as Naxos, may cause too many, if occasional, disappointments.

No letdown in these Arnold symphonies, though. I applaud them strongly.


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

Jun 9, 2019

Lekeu: Music for Violin, Cello and Piano (CD review)

Bruno Monteiro, violin; Miguel Rocha, cello; Joao Paulo Santos, piano. Brilliant Classics 95739.

Another name, Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894), unfamiliar to me until now, was a Belgian composer who might have gone on to write a lot more good music if he hadn't died relatively young. He studied counterpoint and fugue with Cesar Franck and orchestration with Vincent d'Indy before contracting typhoid fever and dying the day after his twenty-fourth birthday.

On the present album Portuguese violinist Bruno Monteiro and his friends, cellist Miguel Rocha and pianist Joao Paulo Santos, play two of Lekeu's more celebrated chamber pieces. But first, I may need to remind you of just who Mr. Monteiro is. According to his biography, Monteiro is "heralded by the daily Publico as 'one of Portugal's premier violinists' and by the weekly Expresso as 'one of today's most renowned Portuguese musicians.' Fanfare describes him as having a 'burnished golden tone' and Strad states that his 'generous vibrato produces radiant colors.' Music Web International refers to his interpretations as having a 'vitality and an imagination that are looking unequivocally to the future' and that reach an 'almost ideal balance between the expressive and the intellectual.' Gramophone praises his 'unfailing assurance and eloquence,' and Strings Magazine says he is 'a young chamber musician of extraordinary sensitivity.'" So expect extraordinarily good performances.

The program begins with the Sonata for Violin and Piano in G, which Lekeu premiered in Brussels in 1893 to enormous success. According to Wikipedia, Lekeu's style was "prophetic of early-twentieth-century avant-garde French composers like Satie and Milhaud" and "influenced by Franck, Wagner, and Beethoven, though these influences did not manifest themselves as mere imitation." Whatever, the music's most obvious characteristic is its melancholy. Perhaps it was presaging his own early death, but I seriously doubt it.

Bruno Monteiro
There is a brief moment of cheer within the first of the Sonata's three movements, but for the most part the piece is melodic, lyrical, and, as observed above, not a little mournful. Monteiro appropriately plays the work in a most sympathetic manner, his violin sounding soulful and yearning, the piano accompaniment forceful but never interfering with Monteiro's splendidly forthright and emotionally affecting interpretation. While the third movement is clearly more animated than the others, particularly in the first section, the composer going out on a swirl of notes so to speak, the music nevertheless maintains the same mood of tempered sadness we see throughout. And Monteiro is careful to sustain that tone to the end. In all, it's a lovely piece, and Monteiro and Santos show their appreciation with a delicately wrought performance.

The second item on the agenda is the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in C minor, which dates from 1890 and as Monteiro notes is "free from Franckian and Wagnerian influences and more inclined toward Beethoven." Still, Lekeu appears to have struggled writing it and was not especially pleased with the work (he complained of "an overly disciplined and broken discourse"). Whatever, Monteiro and his friends play it with a full measure of fluid grace, sophistication, and brilliance, never sentimentalizing the plush harmonies.

Producer Bruno Monteiro and engineer Jose Fortes recorded the music at Igreja da Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal in June and July 2018. The violin has a sweet, decorous tone, and its miking sets it back far enough to benefit from the room acoustics. The overall sound for the three instrumentalists is warm and smooth as well, with a natural presence, the several instruments together in excellent balance.


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

Jun 5, 2019

On Loudspeaker Wiring Connectors…

By Bryan Geyer

I suggest AWG 12 stranded all-copper (not copper-clad aluminum*) duplex wiring for your power amplifier-to-speaker cable runs. An excellent version is made by Belden, and it’s available from Blue Jeans Cable; refer https://www.bluejeanscable.com/store/speaker/index.htm. Their “Twelve White” is a premium AWG 12 stranded copper cable (Belden 5000) that’s optimum. It’s properly insulated, and exhibits less tendency to kink than the imported AWG 12 wire sold by many retailers.

Despite what you hear to the contrary, it is neither necessary nor beneficial to maintain identical linear lengths for the left and right channel wiring runs. Given the speed that electrons travel, there will be no audible phase delay difference if one stereo side has a longer wiring run than the other side, nor will there be any difference in signal amplitude that might theoretically arise from some niggling variance in series impedance. Cut the cable lengths to fit your personal layout preference.

Do not consider any of the esoteric speaker cable that’s promoted within the hi-end audiophile community. As noted by Peter Aczel, who founded The Audio Critic…
“The transmission of electrical signals through a wire is governed by resistance, inductance, and capacitance (R, L, and C). That’s all, folks! (At least that’s all at audio frequencies. At radio frequencies the geometry of the cable begins to have certain effects.) An audio signal has no idea whether it is passing through expensive or inexpensive RLC. It retains its purity or impurity regardless.”

The basics are well summarized at this classic site: : http://www.roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm.

If your power amplifier and loudspeakers both utilize dual banana jack posts (with standard 19 mm [0.75 inch] on-center spacing), terminate your wiring with compatible dual banana plug connectors. Some nice gold-plated dual banana plugs with helpful bottom entry wire access (minimizes the rear clearance) are available from Parts Express...

My preference is to shorten these dual banana plugs by discarding their fancy knurled end posts and substituting #8-32 x 0.75 inch flat point stainless-steel set screws; see https://www.mcmaster.com/set-screws. Drive those set screws with a 5/64 inch Allen hex wrench—or with an equivalent 5/64 inch hex bit (more elegant) from Chapman Manufacturing Co.; see http://chapmanmfg.com/. (If you admire fine hand tools, get to know Chapman.)

*Lots of retail “speaker wire” is now copper-clad aluminum. Suspect sellers who shout “pure copper”. Their boast might relate only to the cladding—not to the core. (Hey, I may be an over-the-top skeptic, but do be wary of bargain wire!) FYI: 100% all-copper AWG 12 wire exhibits DC resistance ≈ 0.016 Ω per ten (10) linear feet. Use a 4 1/2 digit mode meter (e.g. Fluke 87) to read cable resistance. Measure in relative mode, and test 50 foot lengths that are serially-shorted to net 100 linear feet of conductor. Example: Minimum readout on the Fluke model 87v meter = 0.1Ω, with accuracy of ±0.2% + 2 counts. So 100 ft. of AWG 12 all-copper wire ≈  0.16 Ω.

BG (April 2019)

Jun 2, 2019

Couperin: Concerts Royaux (CD review)

Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques. Aparte Music AP196.

I'm only guessing here, but if you're a typical classical-music fan, you probably recognize the name Francois Couperin (1668-1733), the French Baroque composer, organist, harpsichordist, and probably most famous member of the musically talented Couperin family. What you may not be able to do, however, is name a few of his compositions or whistle a couple of tunes he wrote. Which is why a recording like this one, "Concerts Royaux," from Christophe Rousset and members of his Les Talens ensemble comes in handy.

Yes, the composer is mainly known today for his keyboard works, but he wrote a number of pieces for chamber groups and various combinations of instruments. Couperin, being worried about so many inaccurate copies of his works that were circulating, decided to publish them himself, which he did between 1722-1728. He published "Concerts Royaux," the first of five volumes, in 1722, and they included the music on the current disc.

The title, "Royal Concerts," derives from their being written for King Louis XIV and comprise four harpsichord suites originally composed in 1714-1715 and played at the royal court. Couperin also left notes indicating that the instrumentation could be left to the musicians' discretion. Nor did the composer intend these pieces as true suites, but rather as collections of individual works put together according to his mood at the time. So, these days there is plenty of room for experimentation regarding the instruments in play.

Christophe Rousset
Les Talens Lyriques employ the talents of Stephanie-Marie Degand, violin; Georges Barthel, flute; Patrick Beaugiraud, oboes; Atsushi Sakai,viola de gamba; and Christophe Rousset, founder and leader of the group, which often utilizes up to several dozen players, on harpsichord. Couperin gives us the names of the musicians who performed with him, and they were among the best in the field at that time. So today's musicians have a lot to live up to, and Rousset's players are up to the task.

Couperin assembled the four suites from preludes, airs, and mainly dances, allemandes, sarabandes, gavottes, gigues, minuets, courantes, chaconnes, forlanes, and the like. What's more, most of the dances were of the slow, stately type, so the music is largely comfortable and relaxing, if not a tad melancholy. This might, though, be a relief from the many hurried, sometimes helter-skelter baroque compositions we often encounter. Rousset and his crew present each suite with a healthy dose of grace, polish, and restraint.

Of the four suites, the booklet writer, Erik Kocevar, says the fourth is "without a doubt the finest of the four, and the most consistent in the quality of its parts." I would agree. The fourth suite displays the greatest variety, imagination, and refinement of the four. Nonetheless, for that matter, I doubt I could remember one suite from the other if I listened to them again a few minutes apart. While they are pleasantly attractive, there is a sameness about them that probably only makes them distinguishable to Couperin or Baroque connoisseurs. Kind of like what all of our grandparents said about pop music.

Be aware that despite the disc containing four separate suites of music of five to seven movements each, the movements themselves are quite short, the longest being about four minutes, the others two or three minutes. Thus, the entire running time of the album is less than an hour. Not that I would pose any objection. To have packed it out with miscellaneous Couperin items simply for the sake of filling out the disc space might have been distracting.

Producer Clement Rousset and engineers Clement Rousset and Thimothee Langlois with the studio Little Tribeca recorded the music at Eglise Evangelique Lutherienne Saint-Pierre, Paris in December 2015. The sound appears a bit close, yet it's warm and round, too. Individual instruments show good detail and the ensemble a modicum of depth, although there being so few instruments it really doesn't much matter. Definition is, as I say, good and projects a clean presence. Low notes are a little on the woolly side but highs sparkle, so overall definition is fine. Nor is the harpsichord always noticeable, but, then, I've never heard this group in a concert performance, so what do I know? Certainly, the music is easy on the ears.


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