Carollo: Symphony No. 3 (CD review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Meet the Staff

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

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big 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 the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

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

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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 that 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. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa