May 31, 2020

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, King Christian II (suite). Santtu-Matias Rouvali, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Alpha-Classics ALPHA 574.

Despite Santtu-Matias Rouvali's youthful appearance, he was born in 1985, has been the Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra since 2017, and with the 2021-22 season will be the Principal Conductor of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. He is a man of obvious talents.

Here, Maestro Rouvali leads his Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in what is perhaps the most popular of the seven symphonies by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). As you know, he wrote his Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 between 1899 and 1901 and premiered it in 1902. Although the public quickly dubbed it his "Symphony of Independence" (from Russia), there was some debate as to whether the composer actually intended any symbolic significance in the piece. Be that as it may, it ends in a gloriously victorious finale that surely evokes a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.

The piece begins in a generally sunny style, then builds to a powerful a climax, with a flock of heroic fanfares thrown in for good measure. The composer wrote it in Italy, where he hoped to find sunshine and relaxation. The weather may have been unusually cold for that part of the country at the time, but he managed a fairly bright, sunny opening statement.

The second movement Sibelius marked as an Andante (moderately slow) and ma rubato (with a flexible tempo) to allow conductors more personal expression. The movement starts with a distant drumroll, followed by a pizzicato section for cellos and basses. Sibelius makes the third movement a scherzo, marking it Vivacissimo. It's a movement that provides a dazzling display of orchestral pyrotechnics, interrupted from time to time by a slower, more melancholy theme. The whole thing should bounce around from an admirable liveliness to a more pastoral theme, then a stormy midsection, and a tranquil conclusion. Then, the final movement bursts forth in explosive radiance--both thrilling and patriotic, the movement gliding directly from the third into the fourth without interruption.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali
So how does Maestro Rouvali handle all this? About the way he's pictured on the album's cover, giving it his best Mick Jagger impression. Although things seem a little quicker throughout than from most other conductors, he never appears too rushed. Everything unfolds with a smooth, flowing gait, rising to electrified climaxes in some places and remaining on solidly bucolic ground at others. From its sweet, folksy opening to its riveting conclusion, the symphony under Rouvali takes on a cohesive structure that binds all four movements together more so we usually hear.

Rouvali does especially well with that volatile third movement, which leaps about from fiery to rustic to tranquil. Instead of the usual starts and stops, Rouvali shapes it into a unified whole, one that moves along without much distraction yet still keeps the listener pinned to the spot. It's quite stirring, even if his transition into the final movement could have been more exhilarating. Here, Rouvali chooses to become more serious than overtly patriotic, showing us this is more than just an athletic workout but a thoughtful and substantial interpretation.

And how does Rouvali compare to other favored conductors of mine in the work: Barbirolli (Chesky, EMI, or HDTT), Monteux (HDTT), Szell (Philips), Karajan (EMI), Kletzki (Hi-Q), C. Davis (RCA), Sondergard (Linn), or Vanska (BIS)? Rouvali is right in there and must be added to the recommended list. Maybe he loses a little something in overall nuance next to Barbirolli, but it's close when you consider what Rouvali makes up for sheer color, spark, and adrenaline.

As a coupling, Rouvali gives us the suite from Sibelius's music for the stage play King Christian II. It may not be as familiar to most listeners as the symphony, yet Rouvali gives it a hefty zest that makes it near irresistible. As I said at the outset, Rouvali is a conductor of obvious talent and one we should be hearing from for many years to come.

Producer Jens Braun and engineer Lars Nisson recorded the music at Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden in June 2019. The sound is nicely balanced top to bottom, with a mild room resonance that provides a good sense of place. Detail and definition remain clear despite the gentle hall ambience present. Left-to-right stereo spread is not overdone and appears realistic, while front-to-back perspective is impressive. The bass reaches down acceptably, too, and the highs are fairly extended. Finally, we get a modest but not overly pronounced dynamic response throughout. It's good sound reproduction for a good performance.


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

May 27, 2020

Russian Cello Sonatas (CD review)

Rachmaninov: Sonata in G minor, Op. 19; Vocalise, Op. 34/14; Prokofiev: Sonata in C, Op. 119. Hee-Young Lim, cello; Nathalia Milstein, piano. Sony Classical S807497C (80358118497).

By Karl W. Nehring

One of the fascinating features of classical music is how international it has become. Although long dominated by Europeans, Western classical music has spread around the globe in terms of both composers and performers. As evidence of that internationalization, what we have here is a recording of music by a pair of Russian composers performed by a Korean cellist who trained in the USA, Germany, and France (and is now a Professor of Cello at the Beijing Central Conservatory) and a French pianist who trained in Switzerland and Germany. Adding to the international flair of this release, the liner booklet (itself printed in Korea, the recording sessions having taken place in Germany) displays the first Sony recording by Ms. Lim -- French cello concertos in conjunction with the London Symphony Orchestra led by an American conductor who was born in Japan and is music director of the Mexico City Philharmonic. "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of music…"

I don't think I would be offending anyone by remarking that Russian music tends to be colorful and imbued with passion. Examples that quickly spring to mind are the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, the tone poems of Rismsky-Korsoakov, and the ballets of Stravinsky. Or perhaps we might think of Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 or Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. These examples are all large-scale symphonic efforts, but what we have here in this recording are much smaller-scale compositions that are nonetheless colorful and passionate.

The cello is an instrument with great expressive potential, as is, of course, the piano (technically a percussion instrument but capable of profoundly lyrical expression), and both Rachmaninov and Prokofiev are true masters of emotion in music. Cellist Hee-Young Lim (b. 1987) says of the program she has chosen for this recording, "I love how each one of these pieces shows a sense of resilience and unapologetically commits to owning this."

The emotional dimension of this repertoire is evident from the opening measures of the Cello Sonata in g minor by Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), which the composer wrote in 1901 after successfully recovering from the creative depression he had suffered in the wake of the unsuccessful debut of his Piano Concerto No. 1. That same year, he also completed his most popular work, the Piano Concerto No. 2. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that a striking characteristic of the sonata is the prominence given to the piano. Lim recalls that her interest in the piece "came late in my studies because I always thought that, despite the beautiful melodies, it was the 'Fifth Piano Concerto' accompanied by the cello. I wished we had as many notes as the piano had! However, I now truly enjoy playing this sonata, which represents great chamber music by Rachmaninov."

Hee-Young Lim and Nathalia Milstein
Indeed, pianist Nathalia Milstein (b. 1995) from the outset plays much more than a mere supporting role. The opening is slow but dramatic, the piano playing expressive, soon joined by the cello with a truly singing quality. I scrawled in my listening notes for this first movement "piano plays lots of notes… singing quality to cello… really does sound at times like a piano concerto… but that's OK, beautiful music for both players." The second movement has a more agitated mood, often underpinned by a galloping sound from the piano. The cello sounds calmer, but overall there is still a sense of motion. A lyrical interlude led by the cello is followed by a climax about four minutes in. The music then reverts to the agitated feeling of the opening, with the piano taking much of the lead and the cello singing along. As you might expect, the following third movement opens more softly and reflectively, with the piano in the lead, followed by the cello echoing the same melody. As the movement continues, there is more soloing by the piano. Toward the end of this short movement, there is an intense passage with both instruments singing away, but then the intensity diminishes as the movement ends quietly, the last note on the cello lingering in the air. The fourth and final movement parallels the opening movement in its scope and intensity. Once again, the piano is assigned a prominent role while the cello plays lyrically and lovingly. The overall impression made by this sonata can be characterized as sounding something like a piano concerto for reduced forces, or better yet, just simply acknowledge it as a truly grand sonata for cello and piano. In any event, it is a beautifully dramatic composition that is played for all it is worth by these two remarkable musicians.

Although the Cello Sonata in C of 1948 by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1963) is smaller in scale than the Rachmaninov (on this recording, the former's three movements are timed at 11:30, 5:03, and 8:47  while the latter's four movements are timed at 13:03, 6:40, 6:05, and 11:11), it packs no less a musical and emotional wallop. Cellist Lim remarks of this sonata that "it has greater range for the cello [compared to the Rachmaninov], with more technical variety. I like the fact that it has a lot of fantasy, like a fairy tale. I feel I'm telling a story."

The opening movement begins with the cello playing in its lower registers, soon joined by the piano, this time playing more percussively than in the Rachmaninov. Moving on, the cello introduces a different theme in a higher register, followed by some plucking accompaniment as the piano takes over the lead for a spell. At about four minutes in, there is a more agitated new melody, followed by some more lyrical lines. As the movement comes to its close, the cello engages in some highly energetic "fiddling," but the movement ends quietly. The second movement at times seems to have the rhythmic feel of a children's song, but its most striking feature -- at least to these ears -- is the incorporation of a musical phrase that sounds for all the world as though Prokofiev lifted it from the American minstrel song, "Dixie." Although it does not play a major role in the movement, to hear a musical phrase from "Dixie" in the midst of a Russian cello sonata is quite an ear-opening experience. The third and final movement begins with plenty of gusto, fast and driving, with plenty of energy from both players. There is a transition to a slower melody about halfway through, but then it is back to increased energy as the sonata heads down the home stretch. Brava! This is a truly engaging piece of music that I wish I had discovered long ago.

The final piece is one that I – and doubtless many other music lovers -- did in fact discover many years ago (although probably not in this particular arrangement), Rachmaninov's Vocalise, originally scored for soprano and orchestra.  Lim writes of this piece, "given that it's a song without words, it's an ideal piece for cello, as the cello is so similar to the human voice. I feel somehow deeply linked to this song, I love its emotional intimacy and passion." To their great credit, Lim and Milstein let Rachmaniov's music speak for itself. There is no sense of exaggerated emotionalism or expressive overload in their playing. This music is expressive as written and does not need extra secret sauce to be poured on by the performers. The end result of their relatively straightforward but nonetheless committed approach is enjoyable and moving. Although this arrangement makes me realize that I would prefer to hear the orchestral version instead (there is a sonically resplendent version sung by Syliva McNair with David Zinman conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on a vintage Telarc CD that also includes a terrific rendition of his Symphony No. 2), that by no means diminishes the pleasure to be found in this scaled-down version, which also sings straight from and to the heart.

For chamber music fans who love melody and emotional depth, I highly recommend this release. And for those just discovering classical music who have not yet delved into the chamber music repertoire, this well-produced and well-engineered release would make an excellent introduction.


To listen to an excerpt from this album, click below:

May 24, 2020

Beethoven: The Complete Piano Concertos (CD review)

Stewart Goodyear, piano; Andrew Constantine, BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Orchid Classics ORC100127.

If you have been a regular reader of Classical Candor, you may have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating: When approaching the purchase of a complete cycle of concertos, symphonies, sonatas, what-have-you, it's always best to find individual recordings by individual artists rather than try to find a single set that serves all needs. This certainly applies to Beethoven's five piano concertos, where even if a person did want a single set of all five pieces, that person would face the dilemma that practically every great pianist of the stereo age has already done one. These artists include Andsnes, Arrau, Ashkenazy, Ax, Barenboim, Brendel, De Larrocha, Fleisher, Giles, Guida, Katchen, Kempff, Kissin, Kovacevich, Perahia, Pollini, Rubinstein, Schiff, Serkin, Tan, Uchida, Weissenberg, Zacharias, Zimerman, and others I can't even remember. It's heady competition.

Nevertheless, nothing will stop musicians young and old from attempting to do everything; it's sort of a rite of passage or something. Nor does it mean there will be anything wrong with any of these sets, and that applies to this new set from Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, accompanied by Andrew Constantine and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Goodyear is a fine musician, and the set does display some impressive things.

Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 are Beethoven light, so to speak, still showing the earmarks of Mozart and Haydn in their style and execution. They sound more blithe, more carefree, than the composer's later concertos. Beethoven wrote the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, in 1795, premiered it with himself as soloist, and then revised it slightly in 1800. He published the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19 in 1795 as well, but he had been working on it since around 1787.

Anyway, Goodyear handles these early works with his usual dexterity, employed with an exceptionally gentle yet sprightly touch. You'll find more forceful presentation elsewhere, though. Goodyear can exhibit all the virtuosity of the best pianists, but he never puts it on display for its own sake. In other words, he doesn't show off, choosing instead always to place the music above himself. Moreover, under Goodyear the sweetness of the slow movements is matchless. Interestingly, Goodyear tells us in a booklet note that Beethoven's piano concertos are "pursuits of unbridled joy." I say "interestingly" because while I found his performances joyful certainly, I wouldn't exactly call it an "unbridled joy." He seems a little too reserved for that. To me, his readings sound more like a sweetly restrained joy.

Stewart Goodyear
Piano Concerto No. 3 is a kind of transitional concerto, not quite in the league of Nos. 4 and 5 but clearly on a road away from Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven premiered it in 1803 along with his Second Symphony, with himself again as the concerto's soloist. Here, we get into the more dramatic, more Romantic Beethoven that we all know and love. The piano enters after a rather long-winded introduction, so it needs to be strong and energetic. Goodyear accomplishes this, if in a fairly straightforward way. The thing about Goodyear is that his playing is never fussy; everything is there for a purpose, with no frills. This works especially well in the slow, introspective Largo, where Goodyear equals anyone in his nuance and subtlety.

Piano Concertos Nos. 4 and 5 are not only the most mature of Beethoven's piano concertos, they are also the most popular, with No. 5 "Emperor" taking its place among the most epic and important concertos in the genre. Beethoven finished the Fourth in 1806 and premiered it in 1807 during a private concert along with his Fourth Symphony. Its first public concert came the next year in a monumental concert along with the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the Choral Fantasy. It would also be Beethoven's last public appearance as a soloist. The piano enters immediately, Goodyear taking the entrance with his accustomed reticence and gradually building an intimate rapport with the orchestra until they become almost as one. The delicacy of this progressive, unhurried union is quite the best feature of the performance.

Beethoven wrote the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 between 1809-1810 and published it in 1811. The opening of the concerto should have a grand and imposing presence, which Maestro Constantine pulls off moderately well, yet when Goodyear's piano enters the pianist still seems a touch too reluctant to let loose. Nonetheless, he maintains a reasonably noble demeanor, and his virtuosity is never in question. The playing just seems a little too reserved for my taste, too plain to shake my allegiance to other performers in this work. The slow movement, though, is beautifully done, hushed, tranquil, and transcendent in the manner of a Chopin to come; and the finale is appropriately joyous.

Bottom line: Goodyear's set is a sturdy, unmannered choice, particularly if you already like Goodyear's style and playing or if you simply want to sample everything out there. Regardless, if you're looking for the best all-around set, performance and sound, I'd continue to recommend Stephen Kovacevich with Sir Colin Davis on Philips. It's almost in a world of its own.

Producer Andrew Keener and engineer Simon Eadon recorded the concertos at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales in September, 2018. The sound is much the same as previous recordings in Hoddinott Hall, meaning it appears in a realistic setting, with a mild ambient bloom and more of an emphasis on realistic concert hall reproduction than on absolute clarity and transparency. The piano sound is a bit wide, but the overall result is pleasurable from the classical-music listener's point of view, even if it might not be material you'd want to use to show off your brand-new stereo system to an audiophile friend.


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

May 20, 2020

Cyrillus Kreek: The Suspended Harp of Babel (CD Review)

Jaan-Eik Tulve, Vox Clamantis; Instrumental preludes and interludes by Marco and Angela Ambrosini (nyckelharpa) and Anna-Lüsa Eller (kennel). ECM New Series ECM 2620.

By Karl W. Nehring

There are times when I sit down at the keyboard to write a review and feel simply inadequate. It is not that I undervalue my writing skill (although I do not claim to be a particularly great writer, t have been doing it reasonably well for what now seems to be an unreasonably long time) or that the subject of my review seems especially difficult to address (I have plenty of notes on this recording from which to draw upon). No, I simply feel inadequate. I just do not feel as if I can adequately -- much less fully -- express how beautiful this recording is. But in the noble spirit of that stirring admonition, "Duty, Honor, Classical Candor," I will do my bumbling best.

First, though, a bit of background on Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962), who was an Estonian composer whose original given name was Karl Ustav Kreek, but for some reason unfathomable to me he changed his name to Cyrillus Kreek. Because Estonia was at the time part of the Russian Empire, Kreek pursued his study of music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he started studying trombone but switched to composition. After graduating in 1918, he began teaching music while continuing his quest to capture the folk music of his native Estonia. According to the liner notes, by the time he died in 1962, he had notated nearly 1,300 songs, both sacred and secular, and made choral arrangements for about 75% of them, providing a rich inventory of music for Estonian choirs, including the country's foremost small vocal ensemble, Vox Clamantis.

The liner notes go on to explain that "this recording includes four of the self-standing psalms Kreek set over the years between 1914 and 1944, including three from 1923 (104 and141 as well as the opening 121) and one from 1938 (137). These are also the four that, together with two other sacred pieces, he arranged for orchestra as Musica sacra in 1943 -- a year in which he produced several such orchestrations of music based on folk material, to be broadcast to an Estonia occupied by Nazi forces." The remaining selections on this recording include some other folk hymns by Kreek as well as some short fantasias composed by Marco Ambrosini based on musical ideas from Kreek's arrangements. Indeed, the striking instrumental accompaniment and interludes provided by the nyckelharpa and kannel (more explanation below of these unfamiliar instruments) are vital elements contributing to the sublime beauty of this recording.

Jaan-Eik Tulve
Although as with just about any good music this recording can bring pleasure when heard semi-seriously or even casually, to gain full measure of its beauty it really needs to be listened to seriously, in s setting free of distractions both audible and visual, paying some reasonable measure of attention to loudspeaker placement and such. And please, I am not advocating audiophile-grade levels of fussiness, just some more than casual but less than fanatical attention to the listening environment conducive to rewarding sonic satisfaction and musical appreciation for what Kreek, the performers, and the engineers have wrought.

The opening measures of the opening cut, "The Sun Shall Not Smite Thee," clearly and immediately establish the musical and sonic beauty of this recording. The soaring women's voices fill a clearly defined acoustic space, a space soon to be filled by men's voices that provide an echo from a more earthly plane. As the program proceeds, the instrumentalists provide interludes as well as occasional accompaniment to the choir. The nyckelharpas are usually bowed, but sometimes plucked, while the kannel shows its versatility by sometimes sounding much like a harp, at other times something like a harpsichord.

The music on this recording often sounds devotional in nature, but a good portion is firmly based on folk themes, as in the third track, "Jacob's  Dream / Proemial Psalm (from 'Orthodox Vespers')," which begins with a solo female voice accompanied by the kannel, then undergirded by a male voice in recitation, with the whole chorus finally taking over for the closing minutes. Tracks 6 ("Awake, My Heart") and 7 ("Praise the Name of the Lord [from 'Orthodox Vespers'])" also manifest a variety of sonic textures and musical styles, the former beginning with a brief nyckelharpa introduction, then some solo female voice, then some folk-based instrumental passages, some singing by the whole chorus, more instrumental passages, the return of the solo female vocal, then the whole chorus, the nyckelharpa, and then the program transitions to a more devotional tone taken up by the chorus in the latter track.

The interplay of different textures and styles continues as the program proceeds, but the collection does not sound like a random grab bag. Kreek's music seems to have a perspective based on what I would take to be a reverence for both heavenly and earthly realms. His devotional music is rooted in the actual devotion of real people, resulting in music meant to be sung by an earthly chorus rather than by a choir of angels, while his folk-based music elevates these tunes by creating musical lines that sound comfortably at home when performed in sanctified spaces.

As the album continues on towards its close, that sense of music filling a sanctified space is gloriously evoked in  track 11, "By the Rivers of Babylon," performed by male chorus. The music produced by these singers sounds pure and holy from the highest voices down to the bass, their "alleluias" seeming capable of touching the souls of believers and nonbelievers alike, whether perceived as praises to the divine or musical manifestations of the sublime. Following this intense experience, the next track, "The Last Dance," is performed by the Ambrosinis on their two nyckelharpas, weaving simple melodies that offer listeners a chance to unwind a bit from the intensity off the previous track before moving on to the album's final track, "O Jesus, Thy Pain / Dame, Vostre Doulz Viaire," which combines music by Kreek with music from the 14th-century French composer Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377). The track begins with a woman singing a folk hymn ("O Jesus…") arranged by Kreek, followed by the kannel playing the melody of Machaut's "Dame…" The nyckelharpas then enter, first joining the kannel in the Machaut, then providing instrumental underpinning as the music shifts back to the solo female voice singing the hymn. The three instruments then take the spotlight again as they return to the Machaut, this time in an arrangement by Marco Ambrosini. The music of Kreek returns, first with female voices, then joined by male voices as Kreek works in polyphony that the liner notes point out stem from an old German chorale that Bach had used in his St. Matthew Passion. Although this summary might seem to describe quite a musical mishmash, the music hangs together and provides a memorable finish to the album.

Concerning the unusual instruments that add an extra measure of color to the sound, the kannel is essentially an Estonian zither, with metal strings that are plucked with both hands. The basic design is thought to go back more than a thousand years, with more strings being added over time, the modern version able to cover nearly four octaves. As to the nyckelharpa, it is a Scandinavian instrument that is essentially a keyed fiddle. It has bowed strings and resonant strings, producing a rich sound. Crazily enough, just across the creek on the other side of the farm field across the road from my home lives a genial gentleman who actually makes nyckelharpas. For more information about this fascinating instrument, you can navigate to

As I said at the outset, the net effect of the music, the performance, and the recorded sound combine to make The Suspended Harp of Babel an indescribably beautiful release. The informative liner notes and lyrics translated into English add to the overall quality of the production.


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

May 17, 2020

Sawyers: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, Hommage to Kandinsky. Kenneth Woods, BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Nimbus Alliance NI 6405.

It may seem to the casual observer that conductor Kenneth Woods is championing mainly lesser-known modern composers in his recordings. This is probably because Maestro Woods really is championing lesser-known modern composers in his recordings. Hans Gal, Christopher Gunning, John Joubert, Ernst Krenek, David Matthews, and Philip Sawyers are not exactly household names except among the most-dedicated classical music enthusiasts. Yet these are some of the people Woods has been recording. Am I complaining? Certainly not, because these composers have one thing in common: They all write real music instead of random noise, and I think Woods appreciates that, as we should.

This time out, we have British composer Philip Sawyers (b. 1951) and his latest symphony, No. 4, written in 2018, conducted by Woods leading the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. I had the pleasure of reviewing Woods's previous two recordings of works by Sawyers, the Symphony No. 3 and the Violin Concerto, and enjoyed them both. So there was no reason for me to dislike the Symphony No. 4. It may not be Beethoven, but it beats a lot of what passes for music these days.

Sawyers wrote his Fourth Symphony in only three movements, which is right away a bit untraditional. Yet most of the music is squarely in a traditional or conventional vein. In fact, Sawyers has admitted that his music was "distinctly out of fashion" for much of the twentieth century. It's no surprise; he still appears to believe in things like melody, tonality, harmony, and rhythm, things that have largely gone out of favor in much modern music. So, why three movements? Sawyers says that by the time he finished the third movement, he had nothing more to say. Fair enough; quit while you're ahead.

Kenneth Woods
The first movement is dramatic and serene by turns. Certainly, the drama starts with the opening notes, which would have made Beethoven proud. It goes on with a whole series of contrasting outbursts, which Maestro Woods seems to relish. While it's all fairly dark in mood, even during its calmer stretches, it keeps the listener on his toes, wondering what's coming next. By the time the movement finishes, it appears downright combative, as Woods himself admits in the booklet notes.

The second movement is a scherzo, as though we needed more commotion. Yet it's light and playful, as most good scherzos are. The composer calls it "a quicksilver affair," and it surely sounds mercurial and impulsive. But it's also the most delightful section of the piece, with Woods unafraid to extract all the color he can from it.

The final movement is the most rhapsodic of the lot, its melodies the most pronounced and emphatic. It's a slow Adagio that begins as a kind of funeral march, moves on to more robust themes, and dissolves into a tranquil vein, with a resplendent final outburst. Memorable? Perhaps not, but only time will tell. Fun? Entertaining? Meaningful in the moment? To be sure.

The accompanying work is titled Hommage to Kandinsky, which Sawyers calls "a symphonic poem for orchestra," written as a commission from the Grand Rapids Symphony in 2014. The inspiration for the music was a 2006 exhibition the composer attended of paintings by Russian abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky (1868-1944). Still, these are not literal responses to the paintings as, say, Mussorksky's were in Pictures at an Exhibition. They are, as Sawyers explains, primarily "an emotional response to Kandinsky's work." Abstract music responding to abstract paintings, so to speak. I rather enjoyed this sequence of five movements, at least as much as Sawyers's new symphony. It's quite lovely, and Woods and the players in his charge perform it in lovely fashion. I do wish Nimbus had provided separate tracks for the piece, though, even if I can understand their wanting to encourage the listener to view the music as a unified whole

Producer Simon Fox-Gal and engineer Simon Smith recorded the music at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales in January 2020. As always, Nimbus produces a realistic sounding disc, with plenty of depth and breadth and ambience. Detailing is good, too, as well as dynamics. It's a fine, smooth, balanced presentation that may not be entirely audiophile but is pleasing, nonetheless.


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

Audio Tech Talk

Articles by Bryan Geyer

Articles by Bill Heck

May 13, 2020

Tarrodi: Highlands - Cello Concerto (CD review)

Also, Camelopardalis; Serenade to Seven Colors; Zephyros: Lucioles; Birds of Paradise. Jakob Koranyi, cello; Andreas Stoehr, Joäna Carnerio (Highlands), Johannes Gustavsson (Zephyros), Västeräs Sinfonietta. dB Productions dBCD166.

By Karl W. Nehring

Not sure whether any of our readers do this, but I have found it quite useful for discovering new recordings. I subscribe to a couple of British magazines, Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine. Gramophone is relatively expensive but is packed with reviews (the version imported to the USA begins with reviews of recent releases featuring American artists and compositions) and interesting feature articles. Each issue also includes retrospective looks at classic recordings, roundup reviews of boxed sets, and recommendations regarding particular compositions. Not cheap, but a good value. BBC Music Magazine also presents good value, but in a different way. Although its reviews are not as extensive, each issue features a section wherein musicians discuss what music they have been listening to recently, plus a section that reveals the same for some of the magazine's staff. In addition, each issue comes with a CD, many of which are quite interesting, plus an article giving the background of the music on the disc. Both magazines, but especially Gramophone, also contain pages and pages of advertisements of new releases from music labels both large and small.

Now, in addition to my subscriptions to these two magazines, I also have a subscription to Amazon Music. So where is all this leading? Well, whenever I find a new issue of either magazine in my mailbox, I eagerly tote it with me back up the driveway, into the house, and oh, oh, are we gonna fly, down in the easy chair! Once settled in cozily, I pull my red pen out of my shirt pocket and begin to leaf methodically through the pages, drawing arrows that point to those recordings in which I might be interested amongst the various reviews, articles, lists, and ads. Then, as the month unfolds, I can pick up the magazine, fire up Amazon music on my phone, connect via Bluetooth to my soundbar system, and then from the comfort of my recliner audition the previously highlighted recordings to determine which ones I might be enthused enough about to justify a purchase of the CD so that I can then enjoy them more fully on my big system.

This release of music by contemporary Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi (b. 1981) is one of the recordings I have purchased after finding a reference to it in a magazine, listening through my phone, and deciding I really wanted to hear it in all its glory. It was a rewarding purchase.

I have encountered the observation in several places that much contemporary orchestral music is more about sound than melody; in this case, that observation seems to hold, as the music on this disc presents much in the way of fascinating sounds but little in the way of hummable tunes. But no, that is not to say that Tarrodi's music is dissonant, or random-sounding, or in any way unpleasant. Although it is not particularly tuneful, it is certainly colorful and engaging to the ear.

The opening track, Camelopardalis, opens quietly in the strings, gradually gaining in volume as the rest of the orchestra joins in, imparting a sense of motion. Following what seems like a breakthrough in to a different scene, the mood changes, the calls of birds can be heard amongst the instruments of the orchestra, then a quiet solo, gentle percussion, a sense of looking out over vistas, flying, soaring, then brass, drums, a large climax, then a fade to the quiet end of what seems to have been a marvelous dream. By the way, I wrote the notes from which I have written my account before reading the liner notes, an activity of that I will leave as an assignment for the reader.

Andrea Tarrodi
The next composition, Serenade for Seven Colours, also begins softly. This time around, the quiet opening begins with the woodwinds, the music moving forward as if propelled by a gentle pulse, with the orchestra leading us on a journey. Brass and percussion join in, and we hear more apparent birdlike sounds, including at one point what my mind's eye envisioned as a woodpecker. Fascinating! The music seems firmly rooted in nature, celebrating a vision of the natural world, at times adopting a pulse that hearkens to the musical style of American composer Steve Reich. Following a section that brass and percussion build in a crescendo, the music returns to the winds, the sound fading off into the distance, leaving only silence.

Next on the agenda is the featured composition of the release, a concerto for cello and orchestra titled Highlands. No quiet opening this time – the orchestra sounds agitated, with support from the drums. After a couple of minutes of churning energy, the solo cello enters with a plaintive sound. After being joined by some percussion, the cello embarks on a solo, with cellist Koranyi sliding down into some of the lower notes on his instrument. As he continues his playing, he is joined by some light accompaniment by some of the other instruments in the orchestra, the music becoming deeply reflective, even mysterious, as we hear what seem once again to be whistles and bird sounds. As you might expect from a piece titled Highlands, Tarrodi's score once again seems deeply rooted in the realms of nature. 

Zephyros features strings and then winds establishing a mood of mystery and wonder, like entering a new realm of nature, sounds from the brass adding more color to the imaginary musical landscape. This composition seems definitely more about mood than melody, but the overall sound is pleasant and beckoning, drawing us in, leading us through some hidden realms of nature and imagination. Later, the sound of the strings seems to hover above the winds, then the brass, as the overall mood of mystery and enchantment carries through to the end.

Lucioles opens with notes from the cello, soon joined by strings and brass and once again featuring what seem to be bird calls. As the piece goes on, there are lots of fluttering sounds, augmented by lower brass notes, then percussion, the energy level building. After a climax, things quiet down, bird sounds reemerge, and a violin takes the lead. The energy then slowly builds again, brass and drums swelling, the bird sounds returning, the cello making an appearance, then the music fades back into silence.

The final selection, Birds of Paradise, opens quietly and mysteriously, then the brass section starts turning up the heat. As the music continues, we once again hear bird calls – as you would certainly expect from the title – but now they are front and center rather than just part of the overall musical landscape. There is some slowly unfolding melody from the cello as more bird calls are heard, but now from what would seem to be a flock off in the distance, getting farther and farther away as the music fades into silence.

The sound quality is excellent, with a natural tonal balance and a good sense of space. The liner notes offer some fascinating insights into the music. At just over 70 minutes, this Swedish release represents good value to those looking to enjoy some music that is different but still listenable and musically satisfying. And for those currently confined indoors because of COVID-19, this music of Tarrodi brings the sounds of nature right into your listening room.


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

May 10, 2020

2020 New Year's Concert (CD review)

Andris Nelsons, Vienna Philharmonic. Sony Classical 19439702402 (2-disc set).

As I've said many times before, I dislike albums recorded live. In the old days of live-audience recording, there was too much noise, shuffling of feet, rustling of programs, coughing and wheezing, and too much breathing, to say nothing of too much applause. But more recently we've gotten close-up recordings that mitigate many of these issues but then create problems of their own. Still, with these yearly New Year's Concerts from the Vienna Philharmonic, the whole business of its being live is, in fact, the point. These discs are mementos, souvenirs, of an event, and they are the exception to the rule.

As you probably know, in 1941 the Vienna Philharmonic began its custom of offering New Year's Concerts, and it hasn't changed much since. EMI, RCA, DG, Decca, and now Sony are among the companies that have recorded the VPO's concerts over the stereo years, and in keeping with the orchestra's tradition of having no permanent conductor, they invite a different maestro to perform the New Year's duties each year. The New Year's conductors in recent times have included some of the biggest names in the business, including Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Willi Boskovsky, Claudio Abbado, Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, Georges Pretre, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Franz Welser-Most, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Gustavo Dudamel, Riccardo Muti, Christian Thielemann, and in 2020 it was Andris Nelsons.

Here's a rundown of the 2020 selections:

Disc 1:
  1. Carl Michael Ziehrer: Die Landstreicher: Ouvertüre
  2. Josef Strauss: Liebesgrüße, Walzer
  3. Josef Strauss: Liechtenstein-Marsch
  4. Johann Strauss II: Blumenfest-Polka
  5. Johann Strauss II: Wo die Zitronen blüh'n, Walzer
  6. Eduard Strauss: Knall und Fall, Polka schnell
  7. Franz von Suppe: Leichte Kavallerie: Ouvertüre
  8. Josef Strauss: Cupido, Polka française
  9. Johann Strauss II: Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Walzer
10. Eduard Strauss: Eisblume, Polka mazur
11. Josef Hellmesberger II: Gavotte

Disc 2:
  1. Hans Christian Lumbye: Postillon Galop
  2. Ludwig van Beethoven: 12 Contretänze
  3. Johann Strauss II: Freuet euch des Lebens, Walzer
  4. Johann Strauss II: Tritsch-Tratsch Polka
  5. Josef Strauss: Dynamiden, Walzer
  6. Josef Strauss: Im Fluge, Polka schnell
  7. New Year's Address
  8. Johann Strauss II: The Blue Danube, Waltz
  9. Johann Strauss I: Radetzky-Marsch

The first thing you may notice is that the selections this year, as they have been in most years, include several composers outside the Strauss family: Zeihrer, Suppe, Hellmesberger, Lumbye, and Beethoven. This helps break up the possible monotony of too much Strauss, of course, but the items Nelsons has selected are gems in their own right. They lighten the load, and they fit right into the Strauss milieu: the mood, the atmosphere, the tone of the music.

Andris Nelsons
More important, Nelsons fits right in with the music. It was not just a lucky coincidence that Nelsons was at the time of the recording the conductor of two of the world's leading orchestras--the Boston Symphony and the Leipzig Gewandhaus. With the opening Ziehrer overture, Nelsons gets straight into the spirit of things. The music is vigorous and happy. Then it's on to the Strausses and waltzes. Nelsons gives everything a healthy bounce; maybe too much for some Strauss fans, but certainly enthusiastic.

After that, it's on to marches and polkas before another waltz, "Where the Lemon Trees Blossom," which Nelsons provides with a sweet nuance. When Strauss premiered it, he called it "Bella Italia" ("Beautiful Italy") but for the printed edition renamed it. Whatever, Nelsons gives it a gentle, warmhearted interpretation.

Probably the highlight of the first disc for me was the reading Nelsons gives to Suppe's old warhorse, "Light Cavalry Overture." If you'll excuse the pun, it really does gallop along, with power and dash. It's quite the invigorating romp.

And so it goes, with Nelsons providing one of the best New Year's shows in a long time. I can only attribute his success to his attempt to create serious music with every selection rather than just play everything, the waltzes especially, as big, splashy show tunes. His may not be the most danceable waltzes ever performed, but they are among the most listenable.

Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht and engineers Tobias Lehmann and Rene Moller of Teldex Studio Berlin recorded the concert live at the Goldener Saal des Wiener Musikvereins on January 1, 2020. As I said at the start: one should consider the album a memento of an event, not as an audiophile demo set. As a live recording, it displays the usual characteristics inherent to most such works today. It's fairly close up, with audience noise during the music at a minimum but still present. The sound is quite dynamic but spatially flat, so you find a big, wide, one-dimensional stage. Oddly, definition is on the soft side, kind of out of the ordinary for a live recording but welcome. Of course, you still get applause between each selection, but we expect that.

Incidentally, if the CD set isn't enough for you, the folks at Sony also offer it on DVD, Blu-ray, and vinyl. Sorry, no VHS, cassette, or 8-track tape available at this time.


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

May 6, 2020

On Other Ways to Woof…

By Bryan Geyer

JL Audo E-Sub e-110, 53 lbs.

“Hi-fi” is now in its 72nd year, and two channel stereo continues to be the dominant focus of those who enjoy music at home. Since the start, we’ve learned that good sound is best conveyed by utilizing different types of loudspeakers to reproduce select segments of the audible range—e.g., woofers for bass, tweeters for treble, maybe a mid-range driver too. More recently, we’ve also come to acknowledge that really deep bass (20 to 50Hz) might be that “bridge too far” for a traditional woofer. This prevails because the bottom bass is best achieved by using a relatively rigid, conically shaped driver + long, piston-like pumping strokes, whereas the upper bass needs a more compliant and responsive driver to effectively track rapid shifts in the 100 to 600Hz bass band. Big woofers that are tasked to cover both jobs simultaneously tend to sound muddy and sluggish, not “tight”. Or they might roll off, rather rapidly, below 40Hz.* The ideal solution is to gently separate the low bass from the main input by means of an external active (electronic) crossover network**. Start at a logical crossover point, preferably at some frequency that lies between 80Hz and 100Hz, and channel that bass, in progressively increasing doses, to independent self-powered subwoofers. The subs can then blend with the mains to create a uniform, phase-synchronized† wavefront that’s fully consistent with the source signal and capable of flat response to 30Hz before tapering to infrasonic cut-off. A low pass crossover latency of ~ one wavelength will naturally accrue due to the group delay inherent in this processing. The resulting time-of-arrival difference (10 to 12.5msec) falls well within the accepted fusion zone†† interval of ≤ 25msec when the subs and mains are equidistant. Cumulative delay will remain entirely within that boundary until the subs are spaced > 13 feet beyond the listener-to-main speaker radius. (E.g., if the mains are 10 feet away, keep the subs within 23 feet.) In view of this outcome there’s no need to consider digitally generated corrective timing (e.g., Mini-DSP, DEQX, et al), as any reasonable positioning of the subs will assure that net latency remains inaudible and within the verified fusion limit. Keep this purely analog stage exclusively analog!

Do verify (preferably by measurement) that the subs/mains are accurately phase-correlated, and that they are optimally balanced per the footnote† herein. Also confirm that both subs are placed inside the cited positioning radius. Minimize the allowed spacing when decor constraints permit. Just be aware that you have up to 13 feet available, free of significant performance compromise, if your preferred layout requires such separation.

External xover bypassed

This latter speaker system setup, wherein a pair of self-powered subwoofers handle the low bass while separate stereo main speakers handle the rest, can also yield other benefits. Consider…

Acoustics: The use of paired subwoofers can appreciably improve the overall room acoustics. Two subs, positioned in the front corners and flanked outside the mains, will propel a widely unified bass wavefront that’s approximately opposite in phase to the reflected back wall rebound. This will result in partial cancellation of that resonance, and it will mitigate the disruptive low frequency peaks/nulls that inevitably develop in home listening rooms. Improved clarity will result. Absorbent room treatment materials can also be of significant benefit, but the extra thick*† anechoic pads required to swallow low frequency reflections generally confines such stuff to man-cave environs.

Convenience: Big floor-standing full-range loudspeakers are not the sole solution anymore. Paired (or more) subwoofers, plus modest-sized mains, will present lots of layout freedom. Stand mounting the mains and spacing them several feet from the front wall will generally prove best, but a shelf mount†* is certainly feasible with a sealed enclosure; also with vented models if a port plug is utilized. (The plug will further benefit phase sync tuning.) Smaller main speakers are a lot easier to position (and live with) than big, dominant floor-standers, and subs like those in the JL Audio “E-Sub” series are easy to hide away in the front corners. You’ll like your options.

Bryan Geyer (April 16, 2020)

*There are very few full-range floor-standing loudspeaker systems with woofers that are able to match the performance of a good subwoofer at frequencies from 20Hz to 50Hz. Nearly all of the floor-standers sag from 40Hz down, which is not surprising, given the fact that they’re also expected to reach 600Hz to 1kHz or more. Conversely, good subs are intended purely for 20Hz to 100Hz bass, a demanding but restricted niche that they’re specifically designed to serve—and where they commonly excel.

**Refer “Optimizing Subwoofer Integration, Part 1”, at

†Refer “On Optimizing Subwoofer Integration, Part 2”, at This procedure details how to precisely (by measured means, with visual veracity) adjust the subwoofer’s input gain and phase angle controls to assure synchronous phase and optimal amplitude of the output at the prime listening position, at a designated crossover frequency. Both such adjustments are present on better subwoofers. (Lesser subs might substitute a simple 0˚-180˚ polarity inversion switch instead of fully variable phase angle adjustment, and that’s not acceptable. You’ll need a continuously variable 0˚ to 280˚ [as referred to 80Hz] control to assure optimal sub-to-mains phase sync.)

††The term “fusion zone” defines the accepted latency interval during which separate sounds (of near-equal amplitude) arrive close enough together to be perceived as the same sound. (Refer fusion zone, section 7.6.4 of Floyd Toole’s Sound Reproduction, 3rd edition [Routledge, 2018, ISBN 978-1-138-92136-8]). Note that this duration (cited therein as 30msec) is actually based on speech, which is regarded as a distinctly more stringent criteria than for music. Similar tests performed using Mozart compositions indicate that the fusion interval for music probably extends to 50msec or more (refer p.211-212 of Toole’s text). In this paper, I apply a maximum limit of 25msec (1/40th of a second) as the cited fusion zone interval; that’s quite conservative.

*†Absorbent padding will have to be ≥ 4 inches thick to have any appreciable effect in the lower bass region. Large drum-type “bass trap” canisters are also appropriate for managing low bass resonances, but their size and appearance is not compatible with most LR decor.

†*Shelf mounting of the main speakers against the front wall becomes somewhat more acceptable when they’re coupled with subwoofers because the most pervasive (most spherically propagated) lower bass frequencies have already been channeled to the subs. Setting a relatively high crossover point, i.e., 90 to 100Hz, can also help, but do verify that your subs are capable of relatively flat output to ~ 130Hz; some subs droop abruptly beyond 100Hz.

May 3, 2020

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, highlights (24K Gold CD review)

Anatole Fistoulari, Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. HDTT remastered.

Who says audiophile CD's are dead? Mobile Fidelity, Sheffield Labs, and JVC may not produce many, or any, classical discs anymore; and FIM, Hi-Q, and Classical Compact Discs have apparently gone away forever. But we still have HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) going as strong as ever and offering their products in more formats than you can shake a stick at, if that's your idea of a good time. With this release it's Maestro Anatole Fistoulari and the Concertgebouw Orchestra's celebrated 1961 Decca highlights recording of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, remastered by HDTT.

I have a special affection for Fistoulari's Swan Lake because it was the first recording of Tchaikovsky's ballet I ever owned. Notwithstanding the fact that it was only a highlights collection and not the complete score--it would be several more years before I began buying complete sets of the work--I never did find one I liked better than Fistoulari's.

When CD's entered the scene in the early 1980's, I figured Decca would surely remaster it for the new medium, the recording being a classic and all. But it never happened. I sold the vinyl and waited in vain for the next twenty years for a CD. Then, in 2007 I found that Decca's Australia branch had finally issued it on their Eloquence label, so I snatched it up. It was OK, but it didn't sound quite as good as I had remembered from the old LP days. So, yeah, when I saw that HDTT had remastered it, I was more than happy.

Anatole Fistoulari
Now, to the work itself: According to most musicologists, in 1875 Petrovich Begiche, director of the Moscow Imperial Theaters, commissioned the Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-93) to write the music for the ballet we now know as Swan Lake. He premiered it in 1877, and it was to become the first of the composer's big three ballets, with The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty following some years later. Today, we take Swan Lake for granted as one of the greatest of all ballets, possibly THE greatest, but initially it flopped. The dancers complained they couldn't dance to the music, the conductor couldn't handle the tunes, and critics mostly panned it. It would not be until 1895, a few years after the composer's death, that the ballet's popularity would begin to soar in a revival.

The story of Swan Lake supposedly began as a little number called The Lake of the Swans that Tchaikovsky wrote for his family in 1871. Then, when he received Begiche's commission, Tchaikovsky added a few Russian and German folk tales, with the general plot based on a story by the German author Johann Karl August Musäus. One prominent point about Tchaikovsky writing the piece is that critics today consider it the first ballet composed by a writer who had previously worked almost exclusively in the symphonic field. Thus, if Swan Lake sounds more "symphonic" in structure, composition, and themes than earlier ballets, there is a reason.

Swan Lake tells a story in four acts of a young man, Prince Siegfried, whose mother insists that it's time he finds a bride and marry. No sooner said than he chances upon a beautiful young woman, Odette, with whom he falls in love. However, as fate would have it, an evil magician has put her and her attendants under a spell whereby they may only be human at night but turn into swans by day. Naturally, it is only a true and unfailing love that can save her.

The thing you have to accept about Fistoulari's conducting of the score, however, is that he approaches it from more of a symphonic standpoint than a balletic one, which is in keeping with what I mentioned earlier. You'll find broad symphonic lines here, an emphasis on dramatic Romantic effects, and some instrumentation Tchaikovsky didn't write but would probably have approved. In any case, it's the results that count, and you won't find a more exciting, more vigorous, more passionate, or more lovely account of the ballet than Fistoulari's.

Producer Ray Minshull and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson recorded the music for Decca at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam in February 1961. HDTT transferred the recording from a 15ips tape to DSD256, and from there onto the format reviewed here, a 24K gold compact disc.

Naturally, I used the Decca Eloquence CD as a basis for comparison, and it didn't fare as well as the HDTT product. The new HDTT disc outperformed it by a small margin on almost every level. It sounds smoother, rounder, fuller, more dynamic, and better detailed. The Eloquence disc sounds slightly brighter and harsher by comparison, and with less impact. The fact is, this Decca recording always displayed the Concertgebouw at its best. The hall gives the orchestra a healthy but not overly prominent bloom, and while later Philips recordings may have gotten a bit more depth from the ensemble, the Decca engineers managed a pretty good sense of perspective and place, even with their usual multi-miking. Now, the folks at HDTT have made a good recording sound better than ever. And, yes, the HDTT comes closer to what I remember from long ago than the Eloquence disc ever did.

For more information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at


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

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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