Jun 28, 2020

Haydn and Hummel: Concertos for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (CD review)

Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano; Theodore Kuchar, Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. Centaur Records CRC 3742.

It’s not unusual to find works by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and fellow Austrian composer and child piano prodigy Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) paired on the same record album. The two were, after all, contemporaries for a while, although Haydn was by far the older man. Hummel was for time a time Haydn’s pupil, and Haydn even wrote a sonata for him to play. But the two pieces often paired are the trumpet concertos they wrote, not, as here, their double concertos for violin, piano, and orchestra.

So the present disc is a sort of novelty, a revealing one, and excellently played by Ukrainian violinist Dr. Solomiya Ivakhiv, Italian pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, well-known conductor Theodore Kuchar, and the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra.

The first of the two concertos on the disc is the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in F Major, Hob. XVIII:6, written in 1766 by Franz Joseph Haydn. The music sounds about as “classical” as one can imagine, with zippy violin and piano parts and sweet, catchy little tunes. This could be Haydn or Mozart or any of their contemporaries. Except that in the hands of Haydn, there’s never a letdown of sparkling melodies. More important, Ms. Ivakhiv and Mr. Pompa-Baldi perform wonderfully together, their duets a delight in phrasing, nuance, and solidarity. There is absolutely no stuffiness about this playing, just a constant outpouring of joy. Even the central Largo, which might have appeared lethargic in anybody else’s hands, exhibits a radiant beauty. And I suppose a shout-out to Maestro Kuchar is also in order, even though his and his ensemble’s contributions are overshadowed by the soloists. The accompaniment is nothing but gracious and supportive. So, a bit of sometimes overlooked Haydn gets a welcome new realization.

Solomiya Ivakhiv
The complementary selection on the program is the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in G Major, Op. 17, written around 1805 by Johann Hummel. One can still hear the classical echoes of Haydn in the music, but it has a more voluminous, more mature aspect to it than most earlier, eighteenth-century works. And it’s longer than the Haydn, while neither here nor there a notable feature as concertos and symphonies tended to get lengthier over time. The second-movement theme and variations are a standout and more than ever may remind one of Mozart.

We also find in the Hummel the piano taking a more prominent part in the proceedings, even though the violin still dominates. And we get a more ample sound from the orchestra. However, as with the Haydn we find no lack of clever, ever charming tunes in the Hummel piece, which everyone concerned handles with relish.

Producer and engineer Jaroslav Stranavsky recorded the concertos in Ziliny, Slovakia, November 2017. The most noticeable quality about the sound is its bloom, its prominent yet unobjectionable ambient resonance. It makes the strings and soloists sound big and full and provides an extra luster to the affair. The violin and piano do seem a bit too large and too forward at times, but they are, after all, the stars of the show.


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

Jun 24, 2020

Esenvalds: Translations. (CD Review)

Ethan Sperry, Portland State Chamber Choir; Charles Noble, viola (7); Marilyn de Oliveira, cello (7); David Walters, singing handbells (3); Joel Bluestone, vibraphone, glockenspiel, chimes (5); Florian Conzetti, vibraphone, suspended cymbal, bass drum (5). Naxos 8.574124.

By Karl W. Nehring

Program (all compositions by Eriks Esenvalds): 1. O salutaris hostia (2009) (Text: St. Thomas Aquinas, 1224/25-1274); 2. The Heavens' Flock (2014) (Text: Paulann Petersen, b 1942); 3. Translation (2016) (Text: Paulann Petersen); 4. My Thoughts (2019) (Text: Saint Silouan the Athonite, 1866-1938); 5. Vineta; (Text: Wilhelm Muller, 1794-1827); 6. The Legend of the Walled-in Woman (2009) (Text: Albanian folk song and Vendit Tem ["My Land"] by Martin Camaj 1925-1992, English translation by R. Eksie, 1950-2017); 7. In paradisum (2012) (Text: Catholic Liturgy).

A few weeks ago, I enthusiastically recommended a disc of indescribably beautiful choral music (The Suspended Harp of Babel) by the virtually unknown late Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek. Sticking with indescribably beautiful choral music by Baltic composers, this time around I am recommending a newly released recording by the better-known (but still hardly a household name) young Latvian composer, Eriks Esenvalds (b. 1977).

Eriks Esenvalds
Conductor Ethan Sperry (b. 1971) has provided extensive liner notes that provide great insight into the music. Of the overall scope and theme of the program, he writes, "This album features seven selections on the idea of 'translation' or the transformations that occur within us when we encounter the power of nature (Translation and The Heavens' Flock}, legends (The Legend of the Walled-in Woman and Vineta), or the divine (O salutaris hostia, My Thoughts, and in paradisum). Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, whose poetry is set on two tracks of this album, stated: 'Art is translation. Art translates the ineffable into what we can see and hear, what we can experience, what touches us. Art translates mystery for us without destroying that mystery. As translation, art truly is a vehicle for transformation. Art enters and transforms us: lucky, lucky us.'"

As the album opens, we hear a soaring soprano voice hovering above the sound of the choir. The sound quality is pure and natural, making us feel as though we are being ushered into a sacred space of beauty and rest. The soft "amen" at the end is at once resigned and triumphant (Sperry notes that after more than "three minutes of continuous staggered breathing, the choir gets one communal breath before the final, 'Amen'."). The following piece, The Heavens' Flock, finds the male voices in the choir gaining more prominence. There is an echoing effect toward the end that is simply gorgeous. Moving on to the third selection, Translation, the overall arrangement shifts again, with male and female solo voices singing the lyrics above a wordless accompaniment by the choir. As the piece progresses, an uncredited organist provides some soft background playing, the piece ending quietly with a fade from the organ and background voices.

Ethan Sperry
Whereas the first three cuts were all relatively brief, the final four are all longer, beginning with My Thoughts, which Sperry explains "is a setting of the preface of Saint Silouan the Athonite's treatise My Soul Is Crying to the Whole World. While the book itself is a collection of prayers and beliefs, the preface concerns the struggle of attempting to take divine perfection and write it down in words." It starts with both male and female choral voices, then at about the 3.5-minute mark female voices take over for a short time until the rest of the choir comes back in. The choir is briefly augmented by some deep pedal notes from the organ (a good workout for your woofers). Near the end there is an emphatic choral climax, a pause, and then a return from the choir before a fade into silence as this remarkable composition concludes.

The next track, Vineta, is the most overtly expressive composition on the album in both musical and sonic terms. Sperry explains that "Vineta is a legendary city consumed by the Baltic Sea because of its citizens' hedonistic tendencies, and whose church bells still ring from beneath the surface of the waters calling sailors to their deaths." The piece opens with bells and chimes accompanying the choir. A couple of minutes in, there are some deep organ pedal notes. Later, the bells return, with the choir contributing some wordless vocals. As the piece develops, the choir starts singing lyrics again. There are more bells, more notes from the organ, plenty of marvelous sounds to give your audio system a thorough workout. The organ fades, the bells come back, the choir then takes over, with the percussion instruments joining back in before the fade at the end. That is a sadly inelegant bare-bones account of what is a truly remarkable, complex, stunning composition.

Portland State Chamber Choir
The penultimate piece on the album, Legend of the Walled-In Woman, is the most "modern-sounding" composition, at times a bit angular and unusual, but to these ears at least, never off-putting. It begins with an intoning male voice that is then joined by the choir. As the composition unfolds, there are echoing effects, wordless wonders, sounds wild and eerie and forbidding. Listening to this piece, you can hear troubled minds, haunted places of the heart, deep conflict, fear, but all stemming from a tale (the liner notes provide some welcome background information) compellingly portrayed in sonic splendor. But as if to remind us that there is always hope shining brightly before us, the program ends on a note of consolation, in paradisum, in a beautiful arrangement with voices and strings. The heart, mind, and soul of the listener are offered peace and repose, balm in Gilead for these turbulent, troubled times.

Not only is the program outstanding, but so is the production. Former Stereophile editor John Atkinson played a key role in the recording process. In fact, there is an insightful discussion of how the album was engineered by Jason Serinus in that magazine's June 2020 issue. It is well worth perusing to gain more insight into the recording process, which involves both science and art. Although I certainly stand guilty of casting some aspersions at Stereophile over the years, I have always had great respect for Mr. Atkinson. In my admittedly few correspondences with him, he has always been a true gentleman, and his genuine love for and appreciation of music -- especially our beloved British classical music -- has always been exemplary. Bravo, John!

The liner notes by conductor Sperry are helpful, lyrics are included, and the recorded program is nearly 70 minutes long. The musicians, engineers, production staff, and the folks at Naxos have all done themselves proud with this fine release.


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

Jun 21, 2020

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra. HDTT remastered (2-disc set).

EMI and now Warner Classics have released this 1967 Mahler Ninth recording from Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra a number of times (EMI on LP and CD; Warner on CD), with the copy my having on hand being from EMI-Japan. The sound has always been good, no matter what the format or issue, but its latest remastering from HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) sounds better than ever.

Although Mahler's last completed symphony was the crowning jewel in his symphonic cycle, beauteous and sublime, it has always been somewhat ambiguous. Many listeners have interpreted its expressionistic content as an optimistic journey into the light, ending in sweet and everlasting repose, while others have seen the work as a pessimistic view of the world's future where degeneration and decay are our lot. I favor the former view, but I suppose there is something to be said for the second viewpoint as well. At the time of the work's composition in 1909, Mahler was aware that he was gravely ill, and in addition he may have foreseen the coming of the Great War and the end of civilization as his generation had known it. So, there is every possibility of interpreting the symphony either optimistically or pessimistically. Klemperer, who first performed the work in 1925, just thirteen years after its première, knew the piece backwards and wisely took mostly the former course in his interpretation.

Otto Klemperer
In my own view, the opening and closing movements are meant to be relaxed and serene--the first movement an admiration of life and all its beauty, the last movement a resignation of life's passing and a kind of contentment with what is yet to come. In between, Mahler provides some doubt, with a somewhat unruly yet bucolic second movement, followed by one of his patented, parodic Rondo-Burleskes. While Klemperer judges these movements perfectly, he never aggrandizes them or makes them too alluringly lyrical. Instead, his is a sort of no-nonsense approach, the conductor letting the music speak for itself in a steady, stoic, well-defined framework. And, of course, that's what Klemperer did best in all of his music, ensuring that the structure of grand music spoke grandly.

Even though I am also greatly fond of Barbirolli's performance with the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI, Warner, and HDTT), Walter's with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Sony and HDTT), and Haitink's with the Concertgebouw (Philips), I believe Klemperer's reading deserves to be included among the top contenders as well. Incidentally, both Klemperer and Walter were assistants to Mahler, so they both speak with some authority. I can't imagine not owning their stereo recordings (along with Barbirolli's and Haitink's, of course).

Producers Peter Andry and Suvi Raj Grubb and engineer Robert Gooch recorded the symphony at Kingsway Hall, London in February 1967, and HDTT transferred the recording from a 15ips 2-track tape. Because Klemperer's Mahler Ninth is just a few minutes beyond the capacity of a single CD, HDTT have spread it out over two discs, just as EMI did.

Unlike what I found comparing HDTT's remastering of Sir John Barbirolli's Mahler Ninth to an EMI-Japan HQCD, where the sound of the EMI-Japan HQCD was slightly smoother to my ears than HDTT's transfer, the sound of Klemperer's Mahler Ninth was just the opposite. I compared the HDTT product to one of EMI-Japan's regular, non-HQ CD's and found the newer HDTT transfer smoother, richer, warmer, and fuller. EMI's sound (now on Warner Classics) is still quite good, mind you, but the HDTT is just that much better. It is detailed yet natural, with a wide stereo spread, good orchestral depth, and an appealing ambient bloom.

I know that Barbirolli, Haitink, Walter, Abbado, Karajan, Bernstein, and others have produced fine Mahler Ninths, but to my mind and my ears, none of them is any better than Klemperer's recording. It is a joy.

For more information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at https://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


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

Jun 17, 2020

Q & A – Self-Powered Subwoofers…

By Bryan Geyer

What is the worst possible mistake that I could make when installing my new self-powered subwoofers?

Well, your subs probably have both "high level" and "line level" inputs, and the provided instructions will doubtless say that you can simply connect your subs' high level inputs across your main loudspeakers' input terminals. (I.e., in parallel with your main power amplifier outputs.) Yes, that's very easy to do; but is it truly advisable? Well, here's what legendary subwoofer expert Barry Ober, a.k.a. "The Soundoctor," had to say…

"Simply connecting a sub to existing mains speaker (or amp) terminals is the WORST POSSIBLE WAY to do this. EVERYTHING scientific and acoustic about this method is wrong, from the additive delay issues to the back EMF of the mains affecting the LF signal. However there are plenty of people who simply do not understand correctly integrated bass, and they will be reasonably happy simply sticking another box on to their system without regard to timing, phase and frequency issues, and they will think it sounds 'ok' or 'good' and for those people it doesn't really matter."

Take Barry's advice. Don't use those noxious high level subwoofer inputs! They're provided purely to accommodate the rank novice. Don't use the sub's high level inputs even if you aspire to behave as a duly certified incompetent jerk. Always utilize the line level inputs.

Can't I just buy one subwoofer and use it in blended "shared bass" mode for both stereo channels?

A single subwoofer setup is appropriate for home theater applications, where the intent is to reproduce the monaural low frequency effects (LFE) signal that's running on the program's "boom channel". However, two channel stereo presents a bigger challenge. The low bass content in stereo music is an integral part of the performance; it's not a random interruption, as with gunshots, explosions, and monster footfalls. Instead, real directional cues are conveyed. In addition, paired (or more) subwoofers can deliver vital acoustical advantages (refer "Acoustics" paragraph… https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2020/05/on-other-ways-to-woof.html) in the control of low frequency room resonance, as well as provide better midrange response (see below). These latter assets just won't be apparent unless there are two or more separate subwoofers.

"The $64,000 Question"
What are the major benefits that I can expect when adding a pair of self-powered subwoofers?

Outside of more bass, no further benefit will accrue until you… (a) finish the upgrade by adding an external active crossover network control unit; (b) adjust it properly; and (c) optimize the subs' phase angle and input level control settings. Adding subwoofers is a classic "do it right or don't do it" proposition, and persistence is essential.

What will adding an external active crossover network really do for me?

It will allow you attain the other major benefit that subwoofer installations can bestow: Render a more accurate, more realistic midrange. By inserting an active crossover controller at a point in the signal path that's immediately before your power amplifier stages, you can then dictate what feeds to the self-powered subs and what feeds to the main power amplifier and main speakers. Be aware that it's always those big fat bottom bass notes that perpetually smear midrange clarity. When you divert the low bass and send it to the subwoofers (where it belongs), the main speaker system's mid-woofer drivers are then free to handle the upper bass and midrange frequencies independently, without any of that disruptive low bass modulation. You'll get a clearer and more articulate midrange. The improvement will be especially apparent when listening at high sound pressure levels. This midrange benefit is one of the most significant assets that a properly managed subwoofer setup can bestow, and many experienced listeners feel that it's even more rewarding than gaining deeper bass response.

My subwoofers already have their own built-in crossovers. Why do I need an external crossover?

Well, first check on that purported "crossover." Do your subwoofers really have a crossover network, or is it merely a low pass filter? Here's the difference…

With a low pass filter, the signal sees a selective gate that allows only the intended low frequencies to enter. Content above the gate's setting is blocked, so higher frequencies can't progress beyond the low pass gateway. But the full frequency signal is still free to enter any other open portal that might be connected, e.g., the portal to the main power amplifier. The consequence is that the sub's low pass filter feeds only low frequencies to the subwoofer amplifiers, but the full spectrum signal—all lows and highs together—flows into the main power amplifier and then to the main speakers.

With a full crossover network there are complementary low pass and high pass filter gates. The low pass gateway works as described, while the high pass gateway provides inverse screening. It passes the high frequencies through to the main power amplifier while blocking the lower frequencies. In effect, the full crossover network splits the incoming signal into two separate paths, with the lower frequencies diverted to the subwoofers' power amplifiers, and the higher frequencies diverted to the main stereo power amplifier.

The extent of any filtering that's provided inside your self-powered subwoofers will vary. Most subs offer only some simple low pass filtering, but others have self-contained (full or partial) crossover networks. Know what you've bought. Regardless, if you elect to use an external active crossover network, it's then vital that you understand how to bypass (deactivate) all of your subwoofers' internal filtering. You never want to apply both the internal and external filtering networks simultaneously, so bypass the subs' internal filter/crossover circuitry when using an active external crossover controller.

But my new subwoofers really do have their own internal crossover networks. Is using an external active crossover network control going to work better?

In essence, you need an external active crossover controller—one that's placed in a convenient and accessible location—because you intend to use it. If you confined your use to each of the respective subwoofers' internal filters (if/when they're truly provided), you'd then have to crawl to each separate subwoofer to enter every such adjustment. That's not just awkward and impractical, it's unacceptable. Adjustments often call for simultaneous left/right channel changes. A fully integrated central controller is essential.

Do some crossover networks pass or block the signal at different rates?

Yes, and those rates can vary. There are different means of implementing the crossover filtering, with different advantages and limitations; it can get complicated. The modern consensus favors cascading two Butterworth filters to form a Linkwitz-Riley type crossover network operating at a full -24dB per octave attenuation slope. This is also known as a "4th order" filter. This design results in relatively steep attenuation, and maintains closely coherent phase response* with no loss of the summed amplitude when both passbands combine at a coincident -6dB down crossover juncture**.

What crossover frequency should I set?

It's generally best to set the crossover at some frequency between 80Hz and 98Hz. This decision primarily depends on the bass capability of your main speakers. If they're small mini-monitors with little 5 inch diameter woofer cones, then pick a crossover in the 94 to 98Hz range. If you've got main speakers with 6 inch or bigger woofer cones, then you can go lower, but don't push below 80Hz (and never < 70Hz) or you'll invite other messy problems (bass range too compressed, latency offset too long). The high end is mostly a matter of your subwoofers' capabilities. Some subs are capable of relatively flat output to 130Hz, whereas others droop abruptly beyond 100Hz. In most cases, and assuming main speakers with 6 inch or bigger woofer cone Ø, a crossover of 84 to 86Hz is ideal.

My room layout requires that my subwoofers be spaced pretty far away from my active external crossover control unit. Will I need any special cable to make the runs to my subwoofers' line-level inputs?

That route is really benign. You can use any ordinary RCA-type unbalanced coaxial (shielded) cable. Consider: The output is at low impedance (assuming the use of any respectable active crossover controller), and the signal is from the controller's low-pass output, so it's exclusively low frequency information. You can use a fancy XLR cable hookup if you like, but there would be zero benefit.

What are the essential control options that my self-powered subwoofers should offer?

Your subwoofers should provide…
(a) Automatic sound-sensing with remote turn on/off capability, and a manual on/off override switch. Also some visual means (e.g., LED lights) of indicating the current state (fully off, stand by, or active).
(b) A bypass switch to permit the defeat of all internal filtration.
(c) An input gain level control.
(d) A polarity inversion switch.
(e) A fully variable phase angle control (encompassing 0° to 280° [as referred to 80Hz]) to optimize the sub-to-mains phase synchronization setting.

BG (June 9, 2020)

*Both sections emerge closely matched in phase, although the low pass section will lag the high pass section by approximately one full wavelength due to group delay encountered in processing. One wavelength at a typical crossover frequency entails a lag time of ~ 12 to 16 milliseconds. A delay of that duration still remains well within the documented "fusion zone" limit of 30 milliseconds max., hence will not be perceived as a separate sound. (Refer 7.6.4 of Floyd Toole's Sound Reproduction, 3rd edition [Routledge, 2018, ISBN 978-1-138-92136-8]).

**Refer graphic, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linkwitz–Riley_filter.

Jun 14, 2020

Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Sir John Barbirolli, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

The Finale to Mahler's Ninth Symphony, the Adagio, is quite possibly the most beautiful piece of music ever written. If that statement seems too bold, let me lessen it slightly by saying the Adagio is certainly among the most beautiful pieces ever written. There, now; we both feel better. In any case, Sir John Barbirolli's interpretation of Mahler's Ninth has been around for quite a while, since 1964, in fact, and it has successfully weathered the test of time. Like the music, the performance is sublime.

I also prize several other Mahler Ninth Symphony recordings: one from Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips), one from Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (HDTT or Sony), and one from Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra (HDTT or EMI/Warner). However, Barbirolli is high on my list, perhaps a shade more idiosyncratic than Haitink if not so long breathed and serene. For me, Barbirolli, Haitink, Walter, and Klemperer surpass all other versions, even the highly regarded ones by Karajan (DG), Abbado (DG), Giulini (DG), Bernstein (Sony or DG), and Kubelik (DG), offering more in the way of human feeling, with fewer of the grand gestures.

Whatever, Barbirolli so loved the Finale that he asked EMI if he could record it out of sequence so his performers could deal with it in the evening rather than in the morning when EMI and the Berlin orchestra originally scheduled it. "You can't expect people to perform that sort of music in the morning. It must be done in the evening when they're in the right mood," he explained. It was his first, and to my knowledge only, recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, with whom he maintained a long and happy relationship in the concert hall if not in the studio.

This HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfer) of the Mahler Ninth is about the fifth or sixth incarnation of the recording I've owned. There was the EMI vinyl LP years ago; then the CD's, one that I remember in EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" series; then an EMI Japan remastering; then an EMI Japan HQCD (Hi Quality Compact Disc) reissue; and now the HDTT. The sound on HQCD and HDTT is almost as good as anything recorded today, projecting a realistic sonic presence, a reasonably wide stage width at a moderate miking distance, and more than acceptable depth, dynamics, and ambiance to make the experience appear natural. Best of all, it displays a commendable transparency. It's one of my Desert Island Favorites for good reason.

Sir John Barbirolli
You'll remember that Mahler became ever more obsessed with death in his later years, something that manifested itself in his final few symphonies, Das Lied von der Erde (1908), the Ninth Symphony (1909), and the unfinished Tenth. The fact that he had recently lost his daughter and that he learned he was dying of a chronic heart disease probably precipitated this preoccupation. Anyway, Mahler was also reluctant to assign a number to his Ninth because of so many other composers never having gotten past a ninth. In any case, Mahler's Ninth is both melancholy and vigorous, yet it is ultimately liberating in that it offers by the end a profound vision of peace.

Mahler's Ninth is a beautiful accomplishment, one in which I have found joy over the years with, as I've said, several excellent recordings: Otto Klemperer's is a sublime and lofty account; Bernard Haitink's is an absolutely gorgeous rendering; and Walter's is certainly authoritative. But Barbirolli's performance is so impassioned it's hard not to fall in love with it. And I say this meaning no disrespect to other fine conductors of the work I've mentioned like Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, Simon Rattle, Carlo Maria Giulini, Georg Solti, Benjamin Zander, Riccardo Chailly, and the like. I simply find greater pleasure in Barbirolli, Klemperer, Haitink, and Walter than anyone else.

Moving on, Mahler's opening movement is extremely lengthy, close to half an hour, longer than most of Mozart's symphonies in their entirety. In it Mahler presents dual themes of calm hope on the one hand and extreme passion on the other. Sustaining the score's intensity and momentum (and the listener's interest) over such a long period is not easy, yet Barbirolli and the others are able to do so with steady, straightforward tempos and unexaggerated inflections. Barbirolli and Walter in particular make the music all the more lucid and expressive with their understated approaches. Although you won't find the same degree of impetuous emotion found, say, in a Bernstein account, what you will find instead is a more intimate, more nuanced view of the score.

Next we get one of Mahler's typically bizarre scherzos, this one in a waltz-like tempo, a landler. Mahler suggested that he intended it to represent "a friendly leader, fiddling his flock into the hereafter." He probably meant it to be ironic.

The third movement is a Rondo-Burleske. It's sort of a continuation of the preceding movement's mood of mocking the pleasures of life. Still, it tends to turn more serious as it goes along.

Mahler ends the symphony on that final Adagio, possibly a note of resignation. Of the Ninth Symphony Mahler said "There is no more irony, no sarcasm, no resentment whatever; there is only the majesty of death." Apparently, the composer had accepted his own eventuality. The finale is filled with considerable longing yet gentle repose, as though the conductor was content with his fate and ready to embrace it. It's a beautiful and highly moving conclusion, and Barbirolli understands it perfectly.

Producer Ronald Kinloch Anderson and engineer Ernst Rothe recorded the symphony for EMI at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin in 1964. and HDTT remastered and transferred the recording from a 15ips 2-track tape. I listened and compared the sound of the HDTT product mainly to that of the EMI-Japan HQCD disc I had on hand. The Japanese product sounded to me just a tad smoother and more transparent all around. The HDTT disc sounded marginally warmer through much of the midrange but with a high end a little brighter and sometimes a tad edgier. Both sounded good, but when you factor in that the HDTT remastering is cheaper and easier to find (in a variety of formats, including physical product and downloads), it makes an attractive alternative.

I might add, too, that the Barbirolli performance is one of the few recordings of Mahler's Ninth that fits on a single CD. The symphony usually comes in around eighty-some minutes under most other conductors, necessitating two discs. But Barbirolli manages a still-unhurried reading at just a shade under eighty minutes, thus (barely) fitting on one disc. Although it's a small thing, it can be important to some listeners.

For more information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


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

Jun 10, 2020

Moeran: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (CD Review)

Also, Fantasy Quartet; Piano Trio. Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis and Elizabeth Charleson, violins; Simon Aspell, viola: Christopher Marwood, cello; Nicholas Daniel, Oboe; Joachim Piano Trio (Rebecca Hirsch, violin; Caroline Dearnley, cello;  John Lenehan, piano). ASV CD DCA 1045.

By Karl W. Nehring

As many music lovers everywhere are still pretty much staying home these days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this may be a good time to consider listening to some music that is easy on the ears and soothing to the soul. This recording of four pastoral chamber music compositions by Moeran, to which I have been listening quite often lately, may be just what the doctor ordered for these stressful times.

Ernest John Moeran (1894-1950) was an English composer with Irish roots. Like many English composers of his era, Moeran was a student of folk melodies and quite a lover of the outdoors – the scenes and sounds of the countryside. If you are a fan of some of pastoral works by British composers such as Vaughan Williams and Bax, you would do well to investigate the music of Moeran. Although his output was not extensive, it includes some wonderful music that deserves to be more widely performed and recorded. (As a starting point, you might want to take a quick look at reviews of his Symphony in G minor and Sinfonietta on Naxos and his Violin and Cello Concertos on Chandos in the Classical Candor archive.)

This ASV recording presents four works that display his gift for crafting melodies that stimulate the ear while soothing the soul. First on the docket is his String Quartet No. 1 in A minor, which he completed in 1921. From the opening measures, Moeran is inviting the listener to experience the at once calming and energizing sights, sounds, and smells of nature (well, perhaps not all of the smells). The music just flows, at times contemplative, at times restless, just as we might feel as we take a long hike through meadows and glens. The second movement sounds as though it has folk melodies as its basis, as though our hike has brought us into a small village where there is some singing to be heard through open windows. The third movement increases the energy and intensity level while bringing in elements of dance and merrymaking. This may not be the most profound of string quartets, but it certainly has a place among the more lovely.

Ernest John Moeran
Next up is Moeran's String Quartet No. 2 in E flat. According to the liner notes, the numbering system of the quartets is misleading. There are some indications in the historical record that Moeran wrote four quartets, but what we now have as No. 1 was probably actually the fourth of those, with what we have today as No. 2, which was not published until 1956, well after the composer's death, was either the second or third of the four. Confused? Don't worry, just enjoy the music and be glad we have what we have. This quartet is in only two movements, but does not sound incomplete, as the second movement shifts mood and style as it goes along, in some ways making it sound like it contains more than one movement. The first movement is reminiscent of the opening movement of the previous quartet, with that same pastoral, folk music based kind of sound. The second movement starts slowly for several measures, then develops a songlike quality, with some lovely lines for the viola. The mood of this movement then shifts to a more dance-like feeling, then more folksy, then back to the dance, ending with exuberant energy.

The Fantasy Quartet for oboe, violin, viola, and cello dates from 1948. It is in one movement, lasting nearly 14 minutes in this rendition, featuring oboist Nicholas Daniel. Inevitably, because of the sound of the oboe standing out from among the sound of the strings, the piece comes across as more of a reduced-forces oboe concerto than a true quartet. Still, it is a pleasant piece, at times lively, at times more subdued, but melodic and enjoyable throughout.

Vanbrugh Quartet
The final piece on the album, the most grand and least pastoral, is the Piano Trio in D, was first composed in 1920, first performed in 1921, then revised before finally being published in 1925. The first of its four movements opens with the piano as the featured performer (It is a piano trio, after all), playing exuberantly with the strings providing accompaniment. Although the mood may be less pastoral, there is still an underlying folk influence that makes its presence felt. The more peaceful second movement finds the cello taking the opening lead, then the violin, still with an underlying feeling of folk tunes. The piano gets some time in the spotlight before the strings reclaim the lead and the movement comes to a restful conclusion. The third movement turns the energy level back up, with the piano once again asserting itself in the lead role. There are some lovely passages where the strings play what sound like folk melodies that are then echoed by the piano. Later, the tempo slows down and the music becomes more reflective, piano and cello, then piano and violin, the movement ending with an energetic flourish. The final movement kicks off with the violin in the lead. The overall tone is similar to the opening movement, but with more contribution by the strings. There are some quiet passages before the energy returns at the end.

The sound quality is just fine. Perhaps not "audiophile grade" in terms of imaging or ambience, but certainly more than adequate to the task of conveying the beauty of the music. With four satisfying compositions that total more than 77 minutes of music and informative liner notes, this release makes a persuasive case for more widespread appreciation of the music of a largely overlooked composer, especially for those seeking musical balm in troubled times.


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

Jun 7, 2020

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D Minor (CD review)

Also, Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra. Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin; Antonio Pompa-Baldi, piano. Theodore Kuchar, Slovak National Symphony Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 95733.

No, not that one. This is the violin concerto Mendelssohn wrote when he was thirteen.

According to Wikipedia, "The Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D minor was composed by Felix Mendelssohn" around 1822. "It has three movements, Allegro–Andante–Allegro, and performance duration is approximately 22 minutes. Mendelssohn was considered by many of his time to be a prodigy comparable only to the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Besides being a brilliant piano virtuoso, his composition took a firm step forward in musical development. In the period when this concerto was composed, Mendelssohn composed twelve string symphonies. At the age of eleven, he had written a trio for strings, a violin and piano sonata, two piano sonatas, and the beginning of a third, three more for four hands, four for organ, three songs (lieder), and a cantata." And, of course, it would only be a few more years before he wrote the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"Mendelssohn wrote the concerto for Eduard Rietz (eldest brother of Julius Rietz), a beloved friend and teacher." However, "nobody ever performed it in Mendelssohn's own day, and it was only in 1952 that Yehudi Menuhin exhumed and premiered it." Today, we have several recordings of it, although I doubt that any of them, including this one under review, will help usher the concerto into the basic classical repertoire. While it is certainly pleasant and has much to commend it, it never rises to the level of maturity or musical accomplishment of the more-famous Violin Concerto in E minor, which the composer premiered in 1845. Still, this recording might be worthwhile if only as a musical curiosity.

Solomiya Ivakhiv
Violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv handles the solo part with a graceful ease that well captures the youthful spirit of the work. The melodies may not be as soaring or memorable as the ones he would later write, but they are sweet and soothing, qualities Ms. Ivakhiv expounds nicely. Under the leadership of Maestro Theodore Kuchar, the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra sounds as polished as ever, and Ms. Ivakhiv is appropriately expressive, lyrical, and, in the final movement, exuberant. I've heard this concerto played by four or five different violinists over the years, and none of them impressed me as much as this one. Maybe I'm just getting used to the music, or maybe Ms. Ivakhiv has given it just the right touch of sensitivity.

The album's coupling is another early work, the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, which Mendelssohn wrote in 1823. It received one private and one public performance but was never published in the composer's lifetime. And it, too, had to wait until the 1950's to receive a revival. Interestingly, Mendelssohn originally wrote it for only a string accompaniment but later added parts for wind and timpani, which we hear on this recording.

I could not remember having heard this duo concerto before and rather enjoyed it, perhaps more so than the early violin concerto alone. There is a grand sweep to the first movement that is invigorating, and the interplay of violin and piano is often a delight. The duo concerto is much longer than the early solo concerto, too, giving it a bit more substance and the soloists more room to maneuver. Then, too, Mendelssohn gives each of the instrumentalists little solo flights of their own from time to time, which add to the work's poignant charm. Another vivacious finale closes the show in rigorous fashion.

Producer and engineer Jaroslav Stranavsky recorded the concertos at The Fatra House of Art, Ziliny, Slovakia in November 2017. The orchestral sound is big and warm but without much depth. When the violin enters in the first concerto, it is well positioned and notably clearer, better detailed than the orchestra. As things progress, however, any minor qualms disappear, and we begin to appreciate how well the soloist and orchestra work together. The sound may be slightly soft, but it tends to fit the music in any case. In the second of the concertos, with both violin and piano, the two soloists appear a little too close for my taste and tend to dwarf the orchestra.


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

Jun 3, 2020

Sessions: Concerto for Orchestra (CD Review)

Also, Panufnik: Sinfonia Votiva (Symphony No. 8) 
Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra. Hyperion CDA 66050.

By Karl W. Nehring

Sometimes it is interesting to consider perspectives when thinking about music and its enjoyment – or lack thereof. Most readers of Classical Candor visit the site because they have an interest in and appreciation for what is usually designated "classical music." That term covers quite a variety of performance types (e.g., symphonies, concertos, tone poems, chamber music (with its own set of performance types – quartets, trios, sonatas, etc.), operas, oratorios, and so forth. Then there are musical periods to consider, such as baroque, classical, romantic, modern, neoclassical, etc., along with styles associated with countries/regions of origin, tonality or lack thereof, serialism, minimalism, etc. 

I would think that by now you see where I am going with this: as classical music lovers, we all have our preferences, prejudices, and perspectives when it comes to classical music. All of us like some of it, love some of it, hate some of it – but none of us has listened to all of it. There is just simply too much out there for us to hear it all. As a result, most of us tend to stay within our comfort zones. Not entirely, of course, but I hope that what I am saying resonates with most of us. Just within the genre of orchestral music, for example, we have our favorite composers, favorite orchestras, favorite conductors, favorite soloists, favorite recordings, along with a mental checklist of composers, performers, and musical styles that we at minimum tend to avoid and occasionally just outright despise.     

Seiji Ozawa
There is another distinction about music preferences that is worth mentioning briefly, music that attempts to draw you in as opposed to music that attempts to reach out and grab you. We might for lack of better terms call these tendencies "introvert" and "extrovert," respectively. This is of course a subjective distinction that will vary from person to person, but one that at least in broad terms most listeners will tend to find familiar. Consider the contrast between, say, Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt and Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland. Yes, that is an extreme example of such a contrast. In most cases, the contrast will be less pronounced. A music-loving friend whom I asked for a an example of such a contrast (which I had never discussed with him before – I just surprised him with the question by way of a text message) came back quickly with Liszt's Totentanz, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, and Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 in the former category and Beethoven's late string quartets, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, and "maybe" Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 in the latter. I hope these examples give readers a sense of what I am talking about, with perhaps some examples of the two polarities springing to the minds of many. Plus, of course, there are compositions that display both polarities – probably many compositions, including the two featured on this release.

During my initial audition, the two compositions on this Hyperion release struck me as clear examples of these two polarities. But as I listened more often, and more closely, the distinction between introvert and extrovert underwent a measure of change and refinement. Note that both pieces were characterized by their composers as "concertos for orchestra" even though only the Sessions piece was given that actual title. Note also that both pieces were completed in the same year for the same occasion for the same orchestra, the 1981 Centennial of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Andrzej Panufnik
Although the Sessions gets first billing on the album cover, the Panufnik is first on the disc itself, so it seems natural enough to consider it first. Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) was a Polish conductor and composer who became a British citizen in the 1950s. He served as chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for a couple of years before stepping down to devote full time to composition. In the liner notes, he says of Sinfonia Votiva (his Symphony No. 8) that "the work is an abstract work without any programmatic content.. It nevertheless carries a spiritual and patriotic message. It is a votive offering to the miraculous icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in my native Poland. This famous Madonna is said to have been painted by St. Luke on a piece of cypress wood used as a table top by the Holy Family in Nazareth... My Sinfonia Votiva is a personal offering, profoundly influenced by my deeply felt concern over the events that were taking place in Poland throughout the period of its composition. By chance I started work on this Symphony in August 1980 when the shipyard workers in Gdansk had the courage to strike in the cause of justice and human dignity. For the whole year that I took to write this work Poland was in turmoil, and I completed the symphony as the men, women and children of Poland began a series of desperate hunger marches… As well as expressing my patriotic and spiritual feelings, the symphony is intended to show off the full splendour of the Boston Symphony Orchestra not only as an ensemble but as an assembly of brilliant individuals. Although the work is symphonic in structure it may also be regarded as a 'Concerto for Orchestra,' allowing the players to show not only their technical skill but also their expressive and poetic qualities."

Although I do not have quite the level of disdain for live orchestral recordings that JJP has, I do share his preference for "studio" recordings. The liner notes explain that the first performance of Sinfonia Votiva "took place on January 28, 1982 in Boston's Symphony Hall and was repeated on the 29th and 30th, with the recording session taking place in the presence of the composer on the 30th, prior to the concert performance on that day." (It turns out that the work was revised in 1984; however, I was not able to track down the extent of that revision). The lack of audience noise that would have been present in a live recording session means that the quiet opening measures, scored for flute, celeste, then woodwinds, have the sound of a chamber piece taking place in a large hall. At one point there is a nice contribution by the bass clarinet (my old instrument!) and then later we finally hear some strings, especially cello, then harp. The engineers capture the sound of these instruments in the space and ambience of the hall, presenting the listener with an engaging sonic portrait that contributes to the "draw you in" aspect of the composition.

Not until about eight minutes have gone by do the brass enter, featuring the horn, as the music becomes more symphonic sounding, less like chamber music, but not until about the 11-minute mark does the music actually become loud. There is some more quiet, some more loud, and then it is on to the second movement, which starts much more exuberantly led off by brass and percussion. There is some agitated pawing by the strings, with the lower brass making their presence felt, especially the trombone. Woodwinds take over for a while, then the brass return, with the symphony building in expressive and sonic intensity toward its frenetic brass and percussion ending.

From the perspective of the two types of music, the first movement draws you in, the second reaches right out and grabs you. At first listen, it is a composition that struck me as quite introverted overall, largely because of that intriguing first movement. That characterization lasted throughout several more listening sessions, but then I began to appreciate the second movement more and more, making the piece as a whole harder to label. All in all, Sinfonia Votiva is a fascinating composition that has been recorded exceptionally well. It is a piece to which I plan to return, both for musical enjoyment and sonic stimulation. It may not be as "introverted" overall as I first believed, but it still really draws me in, something I would expect it to do for many listeners. 

Roger Sessions
Roger Sessions (1896-1085) was an American composer who started studying music at Harvard at the tender age of 14, graduating at 18 and then continuing his studies at Yale. He then taught at Smith College before traveling in Europe for several years, where he wrote his first major compositions. He then returned to the United States, pursuing an academic career at UC Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, and Juilliard. During his career he was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, the first in 1974 for his overall achievements as an American composer and the second in 1982 for the composition featured on this CD, his Concerto for Orchestra. Of this composition, Sessions wrote in his liner note comments that it "represents, first of all, an expression of gratitude for all that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has meant to me since I first heard it almost exactly seventy years ago. At that time I was fourteen years old… Later, beginning in 1927, the Boston Symphony gave me a number of memorable performances of my own music, two of which (the First Symphony in 1927, and the Third in 1957, the latter composed for the orchestra's seventy-fifth anniversary) were premieres. I have often said that the orchestral sound of the Boston Symphony as I first heard it impressed itself upon my musical memory and strongly affected my own style of orchestral writing. In this Concerto I wished to pay tribute not only to the orchestra as a whole but also to its various groups."

On first listen, two things were immediately apparent to me. First, this was a brash, in-your-face piece, clearly on the extrovert end of the spectrum. Second, it was, even to my hardly conservative ears, pretty much unlistenable. Pulitzer Prize or not, I really did not like it. In fact, I kind of hated it, and had no desire to ever listen to it again. Now what? I had found the Panufnik quite appealing, and wanted to review and recommend it, but what was I to do about its disc mate? Could I bring myself to recommend a CD containing two compositions when one of them was virtually unlistenable? Not sure of what to do or how to write such a bifurcated review, I put the CD aside and reviewed another release instead. In other words, I stalled.

Having bought myself some time, I hunkered down and listened a couple more times, the second time jotting down some new notes. In doing so, I began to realize that the piece was not entirely a lot of unpleasant noise. I was relieved to think that although I still did not really like the piece, at least I now had some notes that would allow me to say something other than it was loud, in-your-face, and pretty much something I would never really want to listen to again. I still did not feel quite settled about how I could frame such a review, so I did not start writing right away. I put off writing for a couple more days, then finally got started on my review of the CD, first laying out a couple of preliminary paragraphs and then some draft material on the Panufnik. Finally the time had arrived when I should be able to bang out some quick, mostly dismissive paragraphs about the Sessions and then the review would be done except for some final editing and proofing. Hooray!

At that juncture, just as I was finally ready to face up to the unpleasant task of writing commentary on a piece that I did not like, a miracle occurred. My notes on the Concerto for Orchestra had disappeared! I looked everywhere it seemed that they could possibly be, but to no avail. Now what?

Why do I consider losing my listening notes a miracle and not a disaster? Because it forced me to do what I had needed to do all along, to sit down and listen to the piece intently a few more times. As I did so, I found myself actually beginning to appreciate what Sessions had produced here, a true Concerto for Orchestra, a composition designed to let the players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra strut their stuff. The brash opening measures are followed by a meandering melody of sorts. Not Mozartean by any means, but not dissonant, not random. Plenty of engaged playing by the brass, winds, and percussion. From brash to beguiling, the music shifts into a quiet interlude, with a beautiful bit of playing by the clarinet. How had I missed that previously? My notes speak of a magical moment about four minutes in featuring woodwinds, another at around the 7:20 point, with winds and horn, then some appealing sounds from the lower strings, and another touch of magic featuring horn and flute at around 9:30. Near the ending there is a return to the  brash brass and percussion sound of the opening, but at the very end, the sound just fades into silence. "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent." (Wittgentstein)

In the end, then, I found the Sessions Concerto for Orchestra to be a piece to which I can imagine returning to from time to time. No, I would not rank it as one of my favorites, but I certainly do not find it virtually unlistenable anymore. For me, an extroverted piece that at first pushed me away while trying to reach out to me wound up drawing me in. On the other hand, I can imagine many classical music lovers who truly would be pushed away, vowing never to return to such an unlistenable composition. Please note: I do not intend even the slightest disrespect or condescension toward such listeners. De gustibus non disputandum est.

Overall, then, I recommend this CD highly, but not to everyone. The musical content is stimulating, worthy of audition by a wider audience, and the disc is exceedingly well engineered. The recorded sound showcases the talents of a magnificent orchestra and conductor at a very special moment in their history. On the minus side, the more modern style of music will not appeal to a wide audience, and the CD contains less than 40 minutes of music, or about half the program that could have been presented. Should any music lovers reading this review have any experience with this recording (which, after all, has now been on the market for nearly 40 years), I would certainly love to read your comments, be they positive or negative.


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