Handel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 3 (SACD review)

Georg Kallweit, Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin. Pentatone PTC 5186 776.

By John J. Puccio

If you enjoy music of the Baroque and Classical ages played with elegance and refinement in historically informed performances, you might just like the Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, a German, period-instrument ensemble formed in 1982 that plays with a smooth precision and style. While they may not display the abandon of, say, Le Concert des Nations or Europa Galante nor with the sheer joy of the Philharmonia Baroque, the Akademie make up for it with the effortless polish of professionals who know and love their business and aren’t afraid of showing a little restraint in the process.

This is not to suggest, however, that the Akademie fur Alte Musik are in any way dull or commonplace. Far from it, as these performances of Handel’s Op. 3 concertos demonstrate. The concertos are clear, focused, and meticulously presented in interpretations both lively and graceful. It’s a refreshing combination.

Anyway, the German-born Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) wrote his six Concerti Grossi, Op. 3 sometime before 1734, when English music publisher John Walsh assembled them from earlier Handel works. Apparently, Handel himself had no intention when he wrote them of their becoming a “set,” nor did he have any idea beforehand what Walsh was up to with them. But have them we do. What’s more, they aren’t “concertos” in the modern sense at all, but rather they are mostly collections of overtures, fugues, dances, and the like arranged into suites of anywhere from two to five movements each. Handel did not design any of them to highlight individual instruments, either, or even to contrast different sections of the orchestra as do most traditional concerti grossi. But Walsh, wanting to capitalize on the popularity of concerti sets of the day compiled them from whatever bits and pieces of Handel’s music he could find. No matter. Much of it remains charming.

Of course, Handel admirers coming to this music for the first time and expecting to find another set of Water Music suites may be disappointed. There just isn’t the abundance of memorable tunes involved. Instead, we have mainly bits and pieces of Handel kind of thrown together to sell copies of the scores. And, of course, listeners not already familiar with Handel’s music may not care one way or the other because it probably all sounds alike to them anyway. But that is not to say there isn’t a lot to appreciate in the Akademie’s view of things, and I rather enjoyed some of “the bits and pieces.”

Maestro Kallweit and the Akademie play with a refined sensibility, somewhat understated on occasion but lively and brisk at other times. The first of the six concertos makes a good example of this. There are three movements to it: fast, slow, fast. And there is no doubting which is which because the fast movements sparkle with energy, while the slow movement, the Largo, is meaningfully leisurely.

Of the concertos I liked best, No. 2 is probably my favorite. It’s one of the longest at five movements, and each of the sections is clearly distinctive from the rest. Musical scholars have suggested that Handel may have written the whole thing as an overture; who knows. It certainly has all the earmarks of a curtain raiser and may easily be savored as a stand-alone item.

And so it goes. Nos. 3 and 5 both open with Largos, making them a bit different. However, the movements are generally so brief, it’s hard to notice. No. 4 seems the most grandiose, No. 5 the most grave. No. 6, the final concerto, seems almost an afterthought. It has only two movements, and it seems that the publisher simply wanted a concluding sixth work in the set because that was the fashion of the times. In any case, it is distinguished by an organ part in the last movement that foreshadows Handel’s later, more-developed organ concertos.

Producers Renaud Loranger and Karel Bruggeman and engineer Jean-Marie Geijsen recorded the concerti at the Nikodemuskirche, Berlin in May 2019. They made it in hybrid SACD, and I listened in SACD two-channel stereo. There’s more ambient bloom in the auditorium than we normally here, making the relatively small ensemble appear bigger than it is. It is not unpleasant. Otherwise, the sound is smooth and agreeable. You might even be hard pressed to tell it’s a period band and not a modern chamber orchestra because of the polished sheen of the sonics. It’s also a tad close, with only moderate depth. Nevertheless, it’s all quite listenable.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, September 26, 2020

American Composers Orchestra Names Lyndsay Werking Acting President

American Composers Orchestra (ACO), praised for its “robust and diverse commissioning program” by The New York Times, has named Lyndsay Werking as its Acting President, effective immediately following current President Edward Yim’s departure on September 18. Werking joined ACO as Director of Development in 2017 and will continue that role concurrently. ACO has engaged executive search firm HC Smith Ltd to fill the position of President permanently.
 
“As Director of Development, Lyndsay has worked closely with Ed to ensure that ACO has the resources necessary to execute on its strategic plan,” said Sameera Troesch, chair of ACO’s Board of Directors. “Her strong leadership has also helped ACO to expand its network of dedicated supporters. We are fortunate to have her step into the Acting President role, for the continuity and expertise she can provide while the Board of Directors completes a search for Ed’s successor.”
 
ACO Artistic Director Derek Bermel adds, “In the last three years, Lyndsay has helped to capitalize capacity building and artistic initiatives at ACO. We are thrilled to have her lead the organization at this time of transition. Her understanding of ACO’s staff, artists, and community will ensure that we can keep advancing our mission and sustaining ACO’s core operations. I have great confidence that she will continue advancing ACO’s financial and strategic planning to build an even stronger platform for a new President.”
 
For more information, visit https://americancomposers.org/2020/09/18/american-composers-orchestra-names-lyndsay-werking-acting-president/
 
--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists
 
Moments of SOLIcitude Ep. 1
Sit back and enjoy Episode 11 of SOLI Chamer Ensemble’s summer video series “Moments of SOLIcitude” on YouTube Premieres. This week our video will feature, arguably the most haunting selection from composer Olivier Messiaen's iconic work Quartet for the End of Time, Abyss of the Birds for solo clarinet.
 
Our own Stephanie Key recorded the movement surrounded by the beautiful mountains and majestic pine trees on the shores of California's Lake Tahoe region.
 
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4uO0hQsW4Y&feature=youtu.be
 
--Anne Schellenge, SOLI Chamber Ensemble
 
Concerts at Saint Thomas Opens Its 2020-21 Season
On October 3 at 3:00 pm, organist and Fulbright scholar Joy-Leilani Garbutt will open the season with a performance on the Miller-Scott Organ. The performance, which was rescheduled from March, will feature French organ music composed by female composers of the early 20th century including Claude Arrieu, Elsa Barraine, Nadia Boulanger, and more.
 
Concerts at Saint Thomas continues their season on October 17 at 3:00 pm, with Assistant Organist, Nicholas Quardokus, who will pay homage to centuries-old German chorale on both the Loening-Hancock and Miller-Scott organs.
 
Pianist Adam Golka will close out Concert at Saint Thomas’s October concerts on October 24 and October 31 at 3:00 pm with the first two parts of an eight-part concert series that will survey Beethoven’s complete Piano Sonatas in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday.
 
For complete details, visit https://www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts
 
--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media
 
Sense of Touch and Tone at the Piano
I have created several posts in ‘The Piano Professor’ that address the many egregious errors and omissions in all theory manuals. It is my feeling that the pianist, teacher, and piano student should know what he is playing and practicing. Theory texts are information for the specialist, i.e. academic only, and not for practical purposes. There is not ‘practical’ theory as evidenced by the fact that examinations and competitions do not require a complete analysis of the compositions being examined/performed, for the simple reason that such practical theoretical analysis is not possible. For example, I have asked the question for decades, why is there no definition for the identity (quality) of the dominant, nor its symbol (identifier)? … only its function; the fifth note of a scale. The question is, of course, ignored. And, that is only one example.
 
Beyond theoretical issues, there is also the issue of the production of artistic sounds (tone) at the piano. I can think of no article to address this area, except in the biography of Vladimir de Pachmann, where there is a description of his practicing tone production with the conscient pressure of each finger on the keys. I have addressed this issue herein with improvised examples of practicing scales and arpeggios by feeling the pressure of each finger on each key, and listening to the result. One result is the rounding off of phrases that is never mentioned elsewhere.
 
View the post: https://thepianoprofessor.com/2020/09/17/sense-of-touch-and-tone-at-the-piano/
 
--Ralph Hedges, The Piano Professor
 
Cantus Opens 2020-21 Season
On Friday, October 2, the Twin Cities based men’s vocal ensemble Cantus will launch the first concert of the 2020-21 season, entitled “There Lies the Home.” The program celebrating sea travel and exploration – originally planned for the ensemble’s spring 2020 home concert series – will be made available to audiences online October 2-4 on a pay-what-you-can model. “There Lies the Home” marks the first of several online concerts that Cantus has developed to continue sharing music during the ongoing pandemic.
 
For details, visit https://www.cantussings.org/hometown-series/
 
--Rebecca Davis PR
 
The Crossing Presents "The Forest" Live
On Saturday, October 3, 2020 and Sunday, October 4, 2020 from 4:30-5:30pm, Grammy-winning new-music choir The Crossing, led by Donald Nally, presents a unique, socially distant, live performance titled “The Forest.” In a time when choirs cannot sing and perform together in conventional ways, “The Forest” features the 24 singers of The Crossing performing along a trail at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, Pennsylvania, situated in the sounds and sights of the woods, while audience members walk, socially distanced, through the soundscape and landscape.
 
“The Forest” focuses on the symbiotic relationship between individual trees and the forest – a metaphor for the relationship between each singer and the ensemble. The libretto is formed from The Crossing singers’ reflections on their isolation during COVID-Time, overlaid with texts from Scott Russell Sanders’ essay “Mind in the Forest.” The music has been developed by conductor Donald Nally and assistant conductor Kevin Vondrak.
 
For complete details, visit https://www.crossingchoir.org/events/2020-21/the-forest-saturday
 
--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media
 
The Centre des musiciens du monde's Fall Musical Encounters
The Centre des musiciens du monde announces its “Rencontres musicales d'automne” program, which will be held on October 9 and 10 at the Saint-Enfant-Jésus church in Montreal's Mile-End.
 
Fourteen musicians from the 2020 creative residency cohort took advantage of the summer to reclaim their space at the Centre and make it resonate with their musical creations. The four works that will be presented on October 9 and 10 are new creations composed during residencies. Inspired by traditions of the world and turned toward new horizons, these creations will reveal themselves vigorously and beautifully to the public!
 
Tickets for these concerts are 10$. In parallel, free interactive workshops will be held to discover various instruments and repertoires from all over the world.
 
For more information, visit https://centredesmusiciensdumonde.com/en/home/
 
--France Gaignard, Publicist
 
Lara Downes Releases Video with Yo-Yo Ma, Judy Collins, Rhiannon Giddens, & More
On September 22, in honor of National Voter Registration Day, pianist and activist Lara Downes released a video of Leonard Bernstein’s song “Take Care of This House,” from the musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
 
The performance features a diverse and multi-generational collection of leading American artists and activists coming together to perform this song as a rallying cry for civil liberties at this critical moment in history. The video includes Yo-Yo Ma, Judy Collins, Rhiannon Giddens, opera greats Thomas Hampson, Angel Blue, Isabel Leonard, Ailyn Pérez and Lawrence Brownlee, Mexican-American jazz diva Magos Herrera, Shereen Pimentel, who stars as Maria in the new Broadway production of Bernstein’s West Side Story, and young musicians from the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and NPR’s From the Top.
 
Downes, who also produced and directed the video, conceived the project as a way to help drive voter participation, as well as raise awareness and support for the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
 
Downes says of the video: “This year of disruption and division has kept artists offstage and off the road. But even from here at home, we can reach out to join forces and offer our music where it matters the most. I’ve looked to Leonard Bernstein throughout my career as the model of a true artist/citizen, a musician who always showed up and spoke up, in good times and bad. He gave us so much inspiration, including this perfect song that speaks to our American past, present and future in such a powerful way. So here we are, from our homes to yours, pledging to take care of this house together. It’s the hope of us all.”
 
The project embodies Bernstein’s history of fusing art and activism, and continues Downes’ longstanding connection to the composer, most recently through her Sony Masterworks album For Lenny.
 
View the video here: http://www.laradownes.com/take-care
 
--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media
 
What's Streaming: Classical (Week of September 28 – October 4)
Monday, September 28 – Sunday, October 4:
Shai Wosner continues Diabelli Variations project.
https://www.facebook.com/ShaiWosner
 
Tuesday, September 29 at 6:30 p.m. ET:
Jen Shyu’s presentation “Mentorship, Creativity, and an Artist's Pivot in Times of COVID-19,” via University of Michigan.
https://events.umich.edu/event/76354
 
Wednesday, September 30 at 2:00 p.m. CT:
Tulsa Opera’s “Staying Alive” series continues with soprano Sarah Coburn.
https://tulsaopera.com/stayingalive/
 
Wednesday, September 30 at 6:00 p.m. ET:
Jen Shyu featured as special guest in Berklee School of Music conversation series “Effortless Mastery Forum.”
https://berklee.zoom.us/meeting/register/upEvf-2urjwtpT3LyI6FL0Nz8pamusPZJg?_x_zm_rtaid=Q1cC5xiGTJexxdReMQslSQ.1600926164506.f44b0160ea97dcf0bfec32756da732b2&_x_zm_rhtaid=84
 
Wednesday, September 30 at 7:00 p.m. ET:
Jennifer Koh’s “Alone Together” in recital for Cornell Concert Series.
http://www.cornellconcertseries.com/performance/jennifer-koh/
 
Thursday, October 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET:
World premiere of a new work by Wu Man and Kronos Quartet.
https://tickets.philharmonicsociety.org/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=23284
 
Friday, October 2 at 7:00 p.m. CT:
Davóne Tines at DACAMERA’s Gala Opening Night Livestream.
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dacamera-gala-opening-night-livestream-tickets-119285101951
 
Friday, October 2 at 8:00 p.m. CT:
Minnesota Orchestra kicks off redesigned fall season.
https://minnesotaorchestra.org/
 
Saturday, October 3 at 2:00 p.m. CT:
Tulsa Opera’s “Staying Alive” series features mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier.
https://tulsaopera.com/stayingalive/
 
Saturday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET:
Davóne Tines’s VIGIL with Louisville Orchestra.
https://louisvilleorchestra.org/concert/beethoven-online2020/
 
--Shuman Associates
 
Joel Harrison of American Pianists Association Announces Retirement
The American Pianists Association (APA) announced today that President/CEO and Artistic Director Dr. Joel Harrison will retire on June 30, 2021, after a tenure comprising nearly half the life of the institution.
 
Harrison solidified APA’s reputation as the premier American organization to identify and cultivate the careers of young American classical and jazz pianists. The timing of his retirement is purposely designed to fall soon after the conclusion of the 2021 Classical Awards, with ample time leading up to the 2023 Jazz Awards for his successor to be named and take over the senior executive position.
 
For more information on the American Pianists Association, visit http://www.americanpianists.org/
 
--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet
 
CMS Announces Fall 2020 Digital Season
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) announces a Fall Season of digital concerts to replace each of the performances originally scheduled for Alice Tully Hall -- Front Row Mainstage, 16 newly-curated concerts drawn from CMS’s vast archive of high-quality recordings. All of these concerts will be streamed on the CMS website for free and will remain on the CMS site for one week after they are posted, unless otherwise indicated.
 
For complete information on CMS Front Row National, visit: https://www.davidroweartists.com/cmslc-front-row
 
--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates
 
Quodlibet Ensemble and Countertenor Reginald Mobley Perform Coming Together
Quodlibet Ensemble and countertenor Reginald Mobley are featured in Coming Together, a digital world premiere film available to watch Thursday, October 1, 2020 at 5pm ET through Election Day, Tuesday, November 3, 2020 at 5pm ET, that traces a journey from struggle to hope amidst challenging times.
 
Co-presented by Five Boroughs Music Festival, Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC), Tippet Rise Art Center, and Bay Chamber Concerts, the 60-minute film begins with Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together for narrator and ensemble with text by Samuel Melville, one of the leaders of the revolt against police brutality at Attica Prison in 1971; followed by a set of four songs and spirituals by Florence Price, starting with uncertainty and looking to God for strength; and J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 54, “Widerstehe doch der Sünde,” which urges the listener to stay true to the righteous path, despite temptation.
 
Watch the trailer for Coming Together: https://vimeo.com/460332727
 
--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media
 
New West Symphony Announces 2020-21 Season
New West Symphony (NWS), with Grammy-winning conductor Michael Christie as Artistic and Music Director, has announced a 2020-21 season of digital concerts, paired with engaging complementary content, to be available streamed or on-demand. Christie is programming eight mini-festivals, held from October through June, that highlight the music, cultures and family traditions throughout Greater Los Angeles, while emphasizing connections with orchestra repertoire.
 
The opening concert, A Tour of Japan with Anne Akiko Meyers, premieres online on Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET, and will be recorded by the orchestra outdoors at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, in the regional home of New West Symphony. The orchestra is hosting a free, online season preview event with Michael Christie on Monday, October 5, 2020 at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET for those who would like to learn more about the 2020-21 season. In addition to NWS’s concerts, mini-festivals will include Meet the Artist/cultural expert interviews, curated playlists, food and lifestyle explorations, restaurant discounts, after-party invitations.
 
Single tickets, All-Access Passports for the mini-festivals, and digital memberships for the full season are now available at http://www.newwestsymphony.org/.
 
--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

On Rational Selection–Part I…

By Bryan Geyer

It’s nice to assess the quality and capability of a new power amplifier in advance of buying it; however, don’t expect to fulfill that research solely by listening. A listening trial will reveal almost nothing about the amplifier’s performance compatibility. You simply won’t hear insufficient voltage gain, or hear the loss that accrues from a poor impedance match. Lots of critical factors can be deficient, or significantly less-than-optimum, without imparting any audible evidence. In truth, it’s not even possible to detect, by ear, whether your test amplifier has sufficient power output capability. (A power amplifier should be capable of providing some +2dB to +3dB more undistorted power output than your loudspeakers can safely handle; refer commentary herein. That value can then be precisely determined by reference to the related product specifications.)

A solid-state power amplifier’s sonic character is almost entirely defined by the intervening physical and emotional filters that separate the listener’s aural perception from the amplifier’s output. Notable intervening screens include the loudspeaker system’s crossover network, the fidelity and character of the drivers , the acoustical nuance of the listening environs, and the shifting vagaries of your own personal mood. Most especially, the final sound will be the result of preconceived expectation; i.e., what your mind says you will hear. These compound and complex factors will cloud the aural linkage between you and the output of that new power amplifier. Any impression or conclusion that you extract will forever remain the product of this imprecise and subjective exposure. In essence, this is why listening is not an accurate or reliable way to appraise audio equipment. Do seek more rational options.

Audio component evaluation is best accomplished by research and inspection rather than by listening. You can pretty well determine everything that you need to know about a given component (let’s assume a power amplifier), by proceeding through the four steps listed below. The data is freely available; you just have to become conversant with how to utilize it effectively. Doing so will certainly require more commitment than passive listening, but it’s likely to be less taxing than interpreting all of the frothy adjectives that you see in a Stereophile product review.

(1)  Check for published reviews on the product. Focus on the factual test data + photos, and the related technical commentary. Skip over the author’s tiresome aural assessment; it’s pretentious nonsense. The Audioholics website is generally more useful than most because they excel on the tech stuff and minimize such fluff as “has expansive soundstaging, explosive dynamics, and exceptional transparency”, or claims that “it produces natural transient attacks, a generous, almost tube-like sustain, and take-your-breath-away decays that produce the sensation of floating on a cloud.” (These latter phrases were as extracted from an on-line Stereophile product review.)

(2)  Examine a photo of the amplifier’s back panel; it’s often available on the maker’s website, or in a published review. (Interior photos sometimes turn up as well. They can be informative too, but only if you already know a lot about what you see.) The back panel photo will give you a good grasp of the various input/output options and the connector detail, plus such features as the turn-on options, provisions for line level input trimming, bridged mono operation, and an understanding of how the line cord connection is implemented, and how the cord is dressed. This latter information is useful if you intend to substitute a replacement line cord; refer footnote.*

(3)  Briefly consider price, then size, then appearance. Eliminate the Dan D’Agostino ilk first. Gaudy products with preposterous prices are obsession traps. Don’t get snared; just move on. Review product size next. Nothing needs technical analysis if it won’t fit within the space allotted. Ditto if it exhibits a pretentious blue-glow-bloat and says McIntosh. Mac’s products just don’t fit my concept of contemporary design; they look more like archived relics from the 1939-’40 NY World’s Fair. Of course, you might disagree, but do reject, up front, all of the equipment that you feel presents undesired esthetics. Appearance matters—especially if it sports a prominent display panel.

(4)  Last, conduct a patient technical assessment of the pertinent performance specifications. Some of the more critical parameters that apply to power amplifiers follow, with comment about how the specification can affect operation. The primary objective is to select an amplifier that will perform in a manner that’s fully compatible and complementary when it’s integrated with your existing components, so you should also be well acquainted with their operating characteristics as well; review those specs too. Lots of this detail will become more apparent as we get into the individual parameters, so let’s begin now with…

INPUT IMPEDANCE (Zin): Whatever the value, assure that the noted Zin is consistent with what fits your need. Explanation: In audio electronics, effective (lossless) signal transfer requires that a low source (output) impedance (Zout) should feed into a much higher load (input) impedance (Zin). Of course, these low/high terms are relative, so their absolute value is flexible. If a preamp exhibits an output impedance of 50 to 100 Ω, that’s low, so almost any load impedance ≥ 10kΩ is then high enough. But if the Zout climbs as much as 2.5kΩ (as with a passive preamp using a 10kΩ attenuator), you’ll then want the load to be some 30kΩ to 50kΩ or higher. In general, when considering a power amplifier, don’t settle for anything with Zin < 30kΩ because you’d start to limit your source options. And yes, some hi-end power amplifiers actually exhibit Zin as low as 10kΩ.

OUTPUT IMPEDANCE (Zout): Low is desirable; higher Zout can breed issues. But how low/high? Well, it depends on what you’ve got. If it’s a solid state preamp, its implicit Zout of 50 to 100Ω is always fine. A vacuum tube preamp (typical Zout ≈ 400 to 500Ω) might be low enough too, if the ensuing load impedance is high enough (10kΩ) to prevent any significant interactive loss. A load impedance (Zin) that’s some 10X to 20X the source impedance (Zout) is a good guideline, so a really low Zout provides more freedom with respect to what might later constitute an acceptable load. When this ratio can’t be conveniently satisfied, an active unity gain buffer (UGB) stage can be inserted. The UGB is designed to provide a relatively high Zin (say ≥ 75kΩ), and a very low (50Ω) Zout, so that it can serve as an idealized “brick wall” to isolate some interim stage that has a higher-than-optimal output impedance; e.g., a passive preamp using a 25kΩ attenuator (worst case Zout ≈ 6.3kΩ).

BRIEF DIY ASIDE: If you’re a competent electronics buff with elementary circuit design smarts, you can create and construct your own very capable UGB, just as I and many others have done. Refer my paper headed “On Noise, Coax, and Control” for tutorial guidance on DIY UGB circuit design. The requisite semiconductors, passive components, connectors, and suitable through-hole stripboard stock (https://www.mouser.com/datasheet/2/58/BPS-DAT-(ST6U)-Datasheet-1282874.pdf) are readily available, at reasonable cost, from Mouser Electronics (https://www.mouser.com). And here…https://goldpt.com/enclosures.html…are two very elegant mini-box enclosures** that have internal support rails compatible with mounting the designated ST6U (1/16 inch thick) stripboard stock. Cutting that glass/epoxy (tougher than phenolic resin) stripboard to the desired size is best done with a portable Milwaukee M12-series saw (https://www.homedepot.com/p/Milwaukee-M12-FUEL-12-Volt-3-in-Lithium-Ion-Brushless-Cordless-Cut-Off-Saw-Tool-Only-2522-20/305663849), and the related abrasive cut-off wheel (https://www.homedepot.com/p/Milwaukee-3-in-Metal-Cut-Off-Wheel-3-Pack-49-94-3000/306599198).

BACK TO OUTPUT IMPEDANCE: Power amplifiers represent a dramatic example of the implicit advantage of low output impedance. A solid-state power amplifier will exhibit a Zout that’s naturally very close to zero; i.e. it’s generally ≤ 0.1Ω. That value will assure an ideal damping factor (≥ 100) and virtually no response-altering interaction with the loudspeaker load. As a result, the sonic character of the output will be shaped almost exclusively by the loudspeaker components alone, without related nuance traceable to the driving amplifier. Conversely, a vacuum tube power amp will exhibit a much higher Zout (> 20X higher) because its transformer-linked load interface is incapable of better coupling. As a result, the tube amplifier will directly interact with its speaker load (the Zout and Zin values will be of similar order) to create a unique “sonic signature” that can vary from the speaker’s natural voice. The higher Zout will similarly degrade the tube amp’s potential damping factor. (NOTE: Benchmark Media Systems offers a white paper concerning the importance of high damping factor; refer https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/audio-myth-damping-factor-isnt-much-of-a-factor.)

POWER OUTPUT: This is the highlight specification for power amplifiers. First, verify that the stated watts are measured according to the industry standard code; namely that they reflect Volts rms (root mean square), not peak volts, and that a specific load is noted (e.g., 8Ω), and that the bandwidth extends from 20Hz to 20kHz. Obviously, more Watts = more power, and more power output is always good. The power output rating should also be listed for 4Ω loads too, and the closer that 4Ω rating gets to = 2X whatever power was listed for 8Ω, the better. Amps that can’t come within ≥ 85% of doubling their 8 Ohm power rating when full output is applied across a 4 Ohm load might be a bit current-limited; maybe too wimpy to meet the peak dynamic transients in Respighi’s Pines of Rome when it’s played at sound pressure levels approaching 90dB (C-scale weighted).

Always assure that your amplifier’s full power output capability is at least some +2dB (1.6X) to +3dB (2X) > the rated power that your loudspeaker system can safely tolerate. This will assure that the loudspeakers are never exposed to a clipped input signal when driven to levels that are within their rated maximum power limit. Outside of physical abuse, nothing can be more potentially injurious to a loudspeaker system than consistently clipped drive signals, and nothing sounds worse than peak level clipping.

VOLTAGE GAIN: This is an important parameter that’s often overlooked. Power amplifiers typically exhibit different voltage gains. They generally vary between ~ +23dB and +30dB, with most of them ranging between +26dB and +29dB. This is an intrinsic design parameter, not the consequence of random variance, so it’s an important user consideration, and it deserves your attention.† The actual gain, expressed in dB, may not appear as a listed spec, but you can readily derive it from the published “input sensitivity” spec. Just do the math: P = EE/R, where P is the power in Watts, E is the AC signal in Vrms†† (EE = E-squared), and R is the load resistance in Ohms. A power amplifier that requires 1.0Vrms to produce 100 Watts into an 8Ω load has a voltage gain = 28.28X; otherwise expressed as +29dB.*†

INPUT SENSITIVITY: Is simply a measure of the input voltage needed to drive a power amplifier to a specified output level (generally, but not necessarily, to full output). It’s precisely the same parameter as voltage gain (above); it’s just restated after somebody else does the math. The “input sensitivity” is = 1.0Vrms when it drives the same amplifier to 100 Watts output across that 8Ω load.

The term “input sensitivity” brings to mind a fundamental concern: You want to assure that your power amplifier has sufficient internal gain that source signals, at their highest levels, are sufficient to drive your power amplifier to full output when your volume control is at zero cut (volume full up). Of course, if you’re using an active preamplifier between your source and the power amplifier, then copious extra gain—likely some +8dB to +12dB, and maybe even more—is available, with virtually all of it unneeded. However, in the event that you’ve modernized your system to eliminate that superfluous high level gain stage, then do assure that your CD player’s output, when driven at the maximum standard 0dB record level, is sufficient to push your power amplifier to full output when volume is set at zero cut. Let’s take an example: My own CD player (a discontinued Onkyo C-7000R) puts out ≈ 1.98Vrms (let’s say 2Vrms) across my 20kΩ volume control when driven at the industry standard 0dB maximum recording level (at 1kHz), and the channels match to within 0.2dB. I’m confident that your CD player’s output will be very close to same. (A good quality CD test disc with 0dB record levels at 1kHz [actually 1.001kHz for some obscure reason] is easily purchased. Mine is “Denon Audio Technical CD” #38C39-7147, and the 0dB test tones are on bands #18 [left] and #19 [right]. This is a professional grade test disc from 1984; it’s now scarce, but sometimes pops up on Amazon. Equivalents are commonly available. Boston Audio Society member DB Systems lists a compendium of test CDs at http://www.bostonaudiosociety.org/db_systems.htm.)

My power amplifier (a Parasound A23, circa 2014, now superseded by A23+) has a voltage gain = +29dB, and the specified full output is 125 Watts/channel into an 8Ω load. As a result, I can be certain that a CD source signal of 2.0Vrms will be more than sufficient to drive my amp to full output. How do I know that? Well, 125 Watts into an 8Ω load means that there’s 31.6 Volts of source signal impressed across that load. Subtracting 29dB of gain (0.035 x 31.6Vrms) tells me that the input need be only 1.1Vrms to drive my amp to full output. So I’d have a full 0.9 Volt margin relative to the potential 2.0Vrms input. (The volume control serves to prevent input > 1.1Vrms, hence avoid clipping.) OK, but what if my power amp had only +23dB of voltage gain instead of +29dB? Well, with volume then turned full up (zero cut), that would mean that the amp would need 0.071 x 31.6Vrms = 2.2Vrms input to reach 125 Watts into 8 Ohms. With just 2.0Vrms of drive from the CD player I’d be close, but still some -0.9dB short of the 2.2Vrms minimum required to produce 125 Watts across 8 Ohms.

The implication is clear: Pay attention to a power amplifier’s voltage gain specification. Be certain that your power amp can always reach its fully rated output (regardless of what that output might be) when your CD player hits the highest signal level that the CD recording process permits; i.e., the 0dB record level. Here is a summary of the recommended amplifier gain consistent with stated output levels, assuming an 8Ω load and a CD player that puts out ~ 2.0Vrms when fed at the standard 0dB maximum record level.
 
            +26dB minimum amplifier voltage gain when rated output is ≤ 200 Watts.
            +27dB minimum amplifier voltage gain when rated output is ≤ 250 Watts.
            +28dB minimum amplifier voltage gain when rated output is ≤ 300 Watts.
            +28.5dB minimum amplifier voltage gain when rated output is ≤ 350 Watts.
 
These minimum gains assure that a 2.0V input signal will drive the power amplifier to the cited output. More gain is fine, but only up to a point. Hold amplifier gain to +31dB or +32dB tops. If your gain was any higher you’d then be forced to unduly retard your volume control setting (to the 9 o’clock arc) when listening at more moderate levels, and that’s not good either. Indeed, that would replicate the penalty that you accept when retaining a conventional active preamp. The preamp’s high level boost of some +8dB to +12dB is grossly excessive, and that unwanted excess prevents good volume management. Dump that archaic active preamp! Instead, get a passive equivalent, and buy (or build) a better volume attenuator than the $15 Alps RK271-series dual pot that’s inside most of the hi-end active preamps.

My own DIY 20kΩ stereo volume control uses a stepped 24 position double-deck switch (Goldpoint type V24C-2, see https://goldpt.com/compare.html), with 23 fixed ±0.1% tolerance metal-film (low noise) 1/4 Watt resistors per channel (46 total), all carefully hand-soldered in position. It provides precisely -2dB-per-step attenuation over 70% of its full -60dB span, and its calibrated ±0.1% accuracy assures far better channel tracking than the crummy 2dB or 3dB ∆ that’s specified for premium Alps pots.

That’s quite enough for this session. In the next paper we’ll continue with this same subject, and discuss some additional parameters that you should review when perusing power amplifier specifications.

BG (September 16, 2020)

*There are often good reasons to seek a replacement line cord. You might need a shorter or longer cord, or one with an angled (90˚) socket, to reduce the rear clearance. And you might choose to utilize a 14 AWG line cord instead of the supplied 16 AWG cord. (Don’t consider 8-10-12 AWG cordage. There is no electrical benefit, and fatter gauge power cords become difficult to route.) USA market amplifiers utilize a molded SJT-type cord, with a Nema 5-15P plug and a IEC320 C13 socket (C13L or C13R if it’s angled). Simply order a replacement (molded, SJT grade, 14 AWG) cord of the length that you want, with socket and plug as desired. This site-- https://www.pchcables.com/expocoandad.html--offers many existing stocked options at very reasonable prices, and the quality is excellent. This site…https://www.stayonline.com/cordbuilder/molded-cord-configurator.asp…will custom-build your cord to your own personal specifications. Just fill in the options on the form; pop-up photos will guide you in making your selection.

Ignore all chatter about ultra-costly replacement line cords that allegedly improve the sound of an amplifier. That fable traces to a pervasive human weakness that we know as confirmation bias (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias). The effect is persuasive, and groupthink-infused (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink) zombies on sponsored websites keep this promotion pumped—as do the retail dealers. Upgraded line cords are among the most profitable of all products stocked. Sales are good, and returns (sometimes not permitted until a mandatory “burn-in” cycle has elapsed) are easily resold. Here is an array…https://www.thecableco.com/cables/power-cables.html?limit=all…of 318 assorted line cords for sale; prices range from ~ $100 to $12,000 each. Of course, science says that the mythical emperor still has no clothes. A substitute line cord will produce no audible change, at least not until some other user says “Hey, can’t you hear that tighter definition in the mids?”

**The Goldpoint #EN1-C enclosure size is quite sufficient if you’re content with using standard metallized polyester film input and output coupling capacitors. However, if you’re going to use premium Vishay MKP 1848 series polypropylene coupling capacitors (they’re big!) you’d need the slightly wider Goldpoint EN2-C enclosure.

†When comparing different power amplifiers in a listening trial, don’t expect to freeze the volume control at some fixed position and assume that you’re thereby providing a fair comparison. The amp with the higher gain will always win, even when decidedly inferior. A difference of just 1dB is enough to sway all votes.

††Use of the designator “E” to represent voltage stems from the classic tutorial use of the term “electromotive force” to describe the voltage function. It’s akin to pressure when expressed as a plumbing analogy.

*†Do keep a “Decibel Table” handy, and review how to read it. Here’s an on-line pdf copy of the “Handbook of Electronics Tables and Formulas”, 6th edition (1988); refer decibel table, pp. 32 to 36…
https://redcxem.ru/files/Handbook_of_Electronics_Tables_and_Formulas.6-th_ed.1986.pdf.
Especially note the scaling difference between voltage gain or loss and power gain or loss. A voltage gain of 2X = +6dB, whereas a power gain of 2X = +3dB.

Telemann: The Colourful Telemann (CD review)

Barthold Kuijken, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. Naxos 8.573900.

This is only a guess, but I’d say if you asked almost any casual classical-music listeners to name theirfavorite Baroque composers, they’d probably respond with Bach, Handel, or Vivaldi. So why does the German Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) get less love than these other fellows? Maybe it’s because he didn’t write a set of Brandenburg Concertos or Water Music or Messiah or 800 variations on “The Four Seasons.” People tend to remember someone’s greatest hits, and, face it, Telemann didn’t have a lot of greatest hits.

Nevertheless, Telemann was among the most prominent composers of his day and was at least as famous in his time as his personal friends Bach and Handel. What’s more, he was at least as prolific, if not more so, than his celebrated contemporaries. The album under review, “The Colourful Telemann,” contains five of his more vibrant, spirited yet relaxed, picturesque, and convivial tunes.

The performers are a comparatively recent period-instruments orchestra, the Indianapolis Baroque (or IndyBaroque), formed in 1997 and led by flautist and recorder player Barthold Kuijken, whom you may know from his work with brothers Wieland and Sigiswald Kuijken in La Petite Bande. The Indy ensemble are good and serve the music with skill and high spirits.

First up is the Ouverture in C minor. Here we find Telemann at his most unhurried, and Kuijken seems perfectly content with playing it that way. There is nothing forced, rushed, or driven about the performance. Instead, it’s a little like a Frederick Delius piece, maybe a casual boat ride one summer evening. Still, Kuijken moves it along at a graceful, stately gait, ensurng it doesn’t become stodgy.

Next is the three-movement Concerto for Two Flutes in G major, where Kuijken shares the baroque transverse flute solos with Leela Breithaupt. Again, we get a relaxed Telemann, his inspirations French, Italian, and even Polish in the final presto. The playing is refined and elegant.

After that is the five-movement Sonata in E minor, which is perhaps a shade more solemn than the previous selections. Nevertheless, Kuijken moves it along at a fluid, gracious pace, the concluding movement, marked “Gay” a special delight.

Then, there is the four-movement Concerto for Two Flutes, Violin and Cello in D major, which seems to include parts for just about everyone in the ensemble. You may notice here a certain degree of similarity with Bach’s Brandenburgs, partly in the layout of instruments and multiple soloists and partly in the tunes themselves. Kuijken leads the players with a slightly yet subdued tone.

The program ends with the seven-movement Sinfonia Melodica in C major, which may have been among Telemann’s final compositions before he died. If so, he went out in style. It’s a delightful, affable, and courtly farewell.

Producer, engineer, and editor Malcolm Bruno made the recording at Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, University of Indianapolis in February 2019. The sound is a tad sharper and clearer than we usually hear from Naxos. For the most part, it’s quite natural, with a smooth, rounded midrange and a nicely extended high end. The lower treble is sometimes prominent, but it is never distractingly bright. The lower end of the musical spectrum is somewhat wanting, however, and dynamics are average at best.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, September 19, 2020

Organist Christopher Houlihan Performs at "Vierne at 150" Festival


On October 8th, Organist Christopher Houlihan celebrates the music and life of Louis Vierne on the French composer's 150th birthday.Vierne at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. The concert, web-streamed to a global audience from Christopher Houlihan's website, is the pinnacle of the free “Vierne at 150" festival, presented online October 5-8, 2020 in celebration of Louis Vierne’s 150th birthday.

"Louis Vierne’s organ music reflects the human condition, perhaps because his own life was full of surprising successes and disappointments," shares Mr. Houlihan. "Throughout the symphonies, soaring romantic melodies are juxtaposed with piercing chromaticism. There’s sillyness one moment, followed by languorous angst the next. To me, he makes the organ—perhaps the most inhuman of instruments—come to life."

‘Vierne at 150’ is presented by Trinity College Chapel Music and the Department of Music. It is also an offering of Trinity College’s Academy of Lifelong Learning, a series of non-credit-bearing short courses on diverse and stimulating topics.

All events are free and are available at http://www.christopherhoulihan.com/.

--Gail Wein, Classical Music Communications

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of September 21–27)
Monday, September 21 – Sunday, September 27
Shai Wosner's Daily Diabelli continues

Monday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Jennifer Koh performs at Concert Artists Guild’s virtual gala and is honored with 2020 CAG Virtuoso Award

Wednesday, September 23 at 2:00 p.m. CT
Tulsa Opera’s Staying Alive continues with Laura McHugh

Minnesota Orchestra at Home

--Shuman Associates

Announcing Voters’ Broadcast by Lisa Bielawa, Director & Composer
Lisa Bielawa’s Voters’ Broadcast is a broadly participatory musical performance for an unlimited number of voices and instruments made up of choral and instrumental ensembles. The work is directed, conceived and composed by Rome Prize and American Academy of Arts & Letters Award-winning composer Lisa Bielawa, with text excerpted from celebrated artist Sheryl Oring’s “I Wish to Say.”

Voters’ Broadcast will be premiered in three virtual events hosted by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Kaufman Music Center in New York on September 30, October 14, and October 28, and one day of outdoor performances presented by Kaufman Music Center and Brooklyn Public Library at BPL’s Central Library on Grand Army Plaza on October 24 at 11am, 12:30pm, and 2pm, as part of the Library’s crowd-sourced 28th Amendment Project.

All events are free and open to the public. For updates, visit www.lisabielawa.net/voters-broadcast.

--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Announces Fall Outdoor Concerts                                            Orpheus Chamber Orchestra announces five outdoor concerts in New York and New Jersey in September and October 2020. Small chamber groups composed of Orpheus members will perform live for limited audiences using marked seating to ensure social distancing with masks required.

Executive Director Alexander Scheirle says, “It’s been such a long spring and summer not being able to do what we love and do best: making music! We are so grateful to have this opportunity to present our musicians in these outdoor chamber music settings. We will be able to perform for you live, keeping musicians and audience socially distanced in a safe and scenic environment.”

For complete information, visit https://orpheusnyc.org/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Death of Classical announces Season 3 of The Angel’s Share
Death of Classical announces season three of its acclaimed series The Angel’s Share, in partnership with The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The series, curated by Andrew Ousley, will offer both in-person and virtual programs, including a cemetery-wide immersive event entitled To America on October 22-24, free performances by a string quartet on the Hill of Graves on September 19 & 26, and six free streamed video concerts from the Catacombs.

For information, visit https://www.deathofclassical.com/angelshare

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Orion Performs All-Beethoven Program
The Orion Ensemble returns to the stage with a one-night-only all-Beethoven program for a limited in-person audience and livestreamed on Tuesday, October 6 at 7 p.m. at PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Joining Orion musicians Kathryne Pirtle (clarinet), Florentina Ramniceanu (violin) and Judy Stone (cello) is guest pianist Kuang-Hao Huang, a sought-after chamber artist, soloist and member of Fulcrum Point New Music Project and Picosa.

The program includes Beethoven's Trio in B-flat Major for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 11, and his Trio in B-flat Major for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 97 "Archduke."

A maximum of 20 people may attend in person at PianoForte Studios; audience members must wear masks at all times, and, while family groups may sit together, different audience members/groups will be seated at least six feet apart. Extra masks and hand sanitizer will be available. The livestream will be available on Orion's YouTube channel, which will also host a recording of the performance for a limited time.

Limited in-person tickets are $25 available for advance purchase only at 630-628-9591 or info@orionensemble.org. Virtual access is free; donations are welcome. The livestream will be available on Orion's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4yVkS6Pp0wzG6HxxXGe1SA

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

American Youth Symphony to Give One-on-One Concerts
After months of patrons experiencing music and art at home, American Youth Symphony (AYS) and ESMoA have partnered to bring back the live music experience with intimate one-on-one concerts on September 26th between 5:00-7:00pm.

Held on the rooftop of ESMoA in Downtown El Segundo, one musician will perform for one audience member. There will be a succession of four 1:1 performances, each 15 minutes long played by AYS Principal Cellist, Alex Mansour and AYS violinist, Ani Sinanyan. Please visit https://www.aysymphony.org/1on1/ for more information.

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

SOLI Ensemble’s Moments of SOLIcitude Ep. 10
Soli Ensemble’s Episode 10 of their Moments of SOLIcitute premiered Septerber 16 and continues on their YouTube channel. Episode 10 features the QUAD Concerto by Texas composer Peter Lieuwen.

This is what Peter says about the origins of the piece "The idea for the QUAD Concerto was hatched in 2011 at an after-concert dinner with the SOLI Chamber Ensemble in San Antonio. SOLI had just performed my composition Overland Dream which was written for the ensemble. As many of my compositions are orchestral, I couldn’t help but envision a new concerto for their colorful instrumental combination."

To see and hear SOLI’s Moments of SOLIcitude, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjltW4tusB8&feature=youtu.be
 
--Anne Schellenge, SOLI Chamber Ensemble

Composer Lisa Bielawa Premieres New Musical Work
The North Carolina State University Department of Music, with additional support from the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association and the Concert Singers of Cary, has commissioned acclaimed composer Lisa Bielawa to create Brickyard Broadcast, a spatialized work for hundreds of musicians that will have its world premiere in a Virtual Reality (VR) environment designed by the digital media teams at the NC State University Libraries, in two events on November 12, 2020 at 6pm ET and November 13, 2020 at 2pm ET. The Brickyard Broadcast VR environment will remain online, accessible to the public for free. Details about the November premiere events will be announced in early October.

Brickyard Broadcast uses technology and interactivity to reinterpret the North Carolina State University Brickyard, the university’s beloved and iconic gathering area outside of D.H. Hill Jr. Library, as a virtual space in which the musical performance will unfold. Hundreds of audio recordings will be integrated, created over the course of the fall 2020 semester by individual student and community musicians playing and singing in isolation under the guidance of Lisa Bielawa; Dr. Peter Askim, Director of Orchestral Studies, NC State Department of Music; and Dr. Nathan Leaf, Director of Choral Activities, NC State Department of Music. Musicians from NC State University choirs, NC State’s Raleigh Civic orchestras, and the Concert Singers of Cary will be participating. Jason Evans Groth, Digital Media Librarian; Colin Keenan, University Libraries Specialist; and Kyle Langdon, University Library Specialist and Audio Engineer, will lead the creation of the VR environment and the online premiere performances.

For more information, visit http://www.lisabielawa.net/brickyard-broadcast

--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

Orli Shaham’s MidWeek Mozart
Orli Shaham's MidWeek Mozart continues this week with the third movement from Sonata No.9, K. 310 - available to stream for free beginning Wednesday, September 16 at https://orlishahammozart.com/.

"This breathless, restless movement continues the turbulence established in the previous movements," says Ms. Shaham. "None of Mozart's usual charm and witticisms, typical of his third movement rondos, are in this whirlpool. So rare for Mozart to mark a tempo “Presto”! Some of my absolute favorite chord progressions in all of Mozart are in this movement."

In addition, Orli Shaham appears in "What Makes it Great" September 21, 7PM. Ms. Shaham performs Beethoven's 'Appassionata' Sonata, and joins NPR & PBS music commentator, conductor, composer, author and pianist Rob Kapilow for a deep-dive into Beethoven's iconic work for piano. Presented by Kaufman Music Center and filmed at Merkin Hall, this online performance is available to view for 48-hours after the performance. Tickets are $15. More details and ticketing here: https://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/what-makes-it-great-beethovens-appassionata-sonata/

Also at Merkin Hall, on November 10, 7PM: Piano Dialogues: Orli Shaham performs Mozart and Beethoven. Ms. Shaham reveals the connections between Mozart’s intense Sonata No. 14 in c minor and Beethoven’s moving “Pathétique,” which shows the influence of that particular Mozart work. Presented by Kaufman Music Center and streamed online from Merkin Hall in New York: https://www.kaufmanmusiccenter.org/mch/event/orli-shaham-piano/

--Gail Wein, Classical Music Communications

Apollo Takes the PARMA Live Stage
Join Apollo Chamber Players for Episode 7 of Virtual Festival 20×2020, featuring ‘Imagenes de Cuba’ by Rice University faculty composer Arthur Gottschalk and guest percussionist Jesús Pacheco. The episode includes a behind-the-scenes look at Apollo’s historic tour to Cuba, as the first American chamber ensemble to record and perform in Cuba in over 50 years.

"Imagénes de Cuba is the product of Professor Gottschalk’s two decades of musical research in Cuba. The composer’s aim was to incorporate Cuban folk music through various rhythms, styles, and popular songs. Fragments from the famous peanut vendor ‘protest’ song and the well-known Guantanamera color the first and second movements; the third movement, ‘Timba,’ is based on the Cuban music form of the same name, a combination of salsa, funk, rumba, and other popular dance styles." --Matt Detrick, Apollo Chamber Players. Excerpt from: New Project: Apollo Chamber Players in Cuba: https://www.parmarecordings.com/new-project-apollo-chamber-players-in-cuba/?vgo_ee=7b257vUuPkFZfqRpcMiMCIvy7T5YEJ8ohjC9vauJg30%3D

Virtual Festival 20×2020 celebrates the conclusion of Apollo’s expansive initiative to commission 20 new multicultural works by 2020. The Festival has been reimagined in the time of COVID, featuring digital world premieres, new studio performances, and innovative dance collaborations with Houston Ballet artists. St.John Flynn hosts new episodes every Thursday and Sunday from August 27 through Nov. 1.

--Sara Warner, PARMA Recordings

Copland House-CUNY Graduate Center Launch New Series
American composers, past and present, are placed center-screen in UNDERSCORED, a provocative new virtual series of musical performances and conversations The Graduate Center of The City University of New York and Copland House are launching this fall. Featuring the internationally-acclaimed Music from Copland House ensemble, and joined by selected rising-star Graduate Center Doctoral candidates as Guest Artists, the series offers premieres, revivals, and classics by musical dreamers, explorers, and innovators reflecting America's immense breadth and diversity.

Each UNDERSCORED program is built around the performance of one important American work, preceded by an introductory conversation with or about the composer, and followed by a live Q&A between viewers and artists.

Access is free, but reserve in advance here: for September 21, for October 13, and October 26. All UNDERSCORED programs will also be streamed free and without reservations on Copland House's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/coplandhouse

--Elizabeth Dworkin, Dworkin & Company

Princeton University Concerts Launches Virtual Season
Princeton University Concerts is excited to open its 2020-2021 season with an opening concert unlike any other in its 127 year history: a virtual Watch Party featuring the beloved Takács String Quartet, in a performance live from Colorado. Free of charge and open to all, this Watch Party will feature music by Mozart, Debussy, Bartók, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and will conclude with a live Q&A in which listeners can directly interact with members of the Takács Quartet. The Watch Party will take place on Thursday, October 15, 2020 from 8-9PM. The stream will then be available for on-demand viewing through Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 11:59PM.

While this free virtual event is non-ticketed, attendees are encouraged to RSVP in advance at princetonuniversityconcerts.org for access to special related content leading up to the stream, including a brief video introduction to the evening’s program given by Princeton University Professor Emeritus Scott Burnham who will include the fascinating history of Coleridge-Taylor’s background as a 20th-century English composer and activist of European and African descent.

--Dasha Koltunyuk, Princeton University Concerts

Bach Week Festival - October 18 Virtual Bachanalia Benefit
Evanston, Illinois-based Bach Week Festival's 2020 Bachanalia, its fourth annual fall fundraiser featuring pairings of classical music with wines selected for the occasion by an advanced sommelier, will take place this season as a free, prerecorded online video presentation premiering at 3 p.m. (CDT) on Sunday, October 18, via Facebook and YouTube. Links will be posted on the festival’s website, bachweek.org.

Performers will include festival favorites of international stature from the Chicago area, including string trio Black Oak Ensemble, cellist David Cunliffe, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg with harpsichordist Stephen Alltop, plus Boston-based organist and choirmaster Richard Webster, Bach Week’s longtime music director.

Carl Grapentine, veteran WFMT Chicago radio personality and J. S. Bach aficionado, will host the program.

The event title combines the last name of German Baroque composer J. S. Bach, the festival’s namesake, and “bacchanalia,” the ancient Roman festival of entertainment and revelry named for Bacchus, Roman god of wine.

Bach Week Festival is one of the Midwest’s premiere Baroque music festivals. The event enlists musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra, and other top-tier ensembles, while featuring some of the Chicago area’s finest instrumental and vocal soloists and distinguished guest artists from out of town.

For more information, visit bachweek.org

--Nathan J. Silverman Co. PR

ESO Goes Global!
Pandemic times prompt imperative measures. AVIE Records is excited to support Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra, who have launched a new global digital platform. ESO Digital's professionally filmed and recorded, socially-distanced virtual concerts feature world-class artists including a soloist giving her first performance since recovering from coronavirus.

What is ESO Digital?
By donating monthly to English Symphony Orchestra, you will get free access to ESO Digital which contains:

24/7 access to previously ‘limited-time’ content, as well as archival material.

Exclusive content for donors such as additional music, interviews, digital receptions, meet-and-greets and behind-the-scenes access.

Opportunities to watch ESO rehearsing or recording live.

Copies of electronic concert programmes.

Discounted tickets for ESO concerts.

Regular newsletters highlighting new ESO Digital content, concert activity and community events.

For complete information, visit https://www.eso.co.uk/digital/

--Melanne Mueller, AVIE Records

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 5 (SACD review)

Also, Finzi: Concerto for Clarinet and Strings. Michael Collins (clarinet and conductor), Philharmonia Orchestra. BIS-2367 SACD.

By Karl W. Nehring

I strongly suspect I am not alone when I say that Ralph Vaughan Williams ((1872-1958) is one of my favorite composers and that his Symphony No. 5 (1938-43) is not merely one of my favorites among his compositions, it is one of my favorite compositions, period. Somewhere around 40 years ago, I was even fortunate enough to attend a live performance of the work by the Ohio State University student orchestra. I currently own three boxed CD sets of RVW’s symphonies (Haitink, Previn, and Slatkin) plus several individual  CDs of Symphony No. 5 (Previn – on both RCA and Telarc, Boult, Slatkin, Spano, and Hickox). This new BIS release conducted by noted British clarinet virtuoso Michael Collins has nothing to be ashamed of in this heady company. It is definitely a keeper – and for several reasons.

The opening Preludio is a haunting movement, one that just seems to float along with majestic motion, like a river flowing along in a beautiful natural setting, or clouds moving through the sky on a gorgeous summer day. Although the overall mood is pastoral, there are moments when the listener can sense an underlying tension. Collins conducts this music with a subtle flexibility of pace and tempo that enhances the shifts in mood without overtly highlighting them. He moves briskly through the next movement, Scherzo, which maintains a pastoral sound but with a restlessness that seems to represent an unsettled or troubled mind seeking some form of resolution, or at least consolation.

The third movement, Romanza, incorporates musical ideas from RVW’s setting of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. (I actually attended a performance as an undergraduate back in 1969, but remember virtually nothing about it. And no, I was not high – contrary to the 60s stereotypes – I just really do not remember anything about the music.) After the nervous energy of the Scherzo, the calm but emotionally, even spiritually resonant music provides succor and inspiration to the soul. There are passages of great delicacy as well as moments of measured intensity that are played with expressive power under Collins’s baton. This is music of great power, but it is restrained power, purposeful power. It clearly shows the genius of Ralph Vaughan Williams, a great composer by any measure.

The final movement, Passacaglia, moves along with measured purpose, the music no longer floating along as in the first movement, but with a sense of coming to the end of a memorable journey. Collins again adapts a subtly flexible approach to tempo and volume that serves the music well. The two recordings that I generally listen to when the mood strikes me to hear this symphony have been the two Telarcs, Previn and Spanos. I believe that duo is now a trio.

The other work on this SACD release (I listened to the stereo SACD layer; there are also SACD surround and CD layers) is the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), who was a friend and admirer of RVW. Finzi is most well-known for his vocal works, but he also wrote some beautiful instrumental music.

Michael Collins
The opening measures of the Concerto feature dramatic decorations by the strings, which are then joined by much more lyrical lines from Collins’s clarinet. As the movement continues, the overall sensation is peaceful and pastoral, gentle and beautiful. Around the 7-minute mark, Collins delights with a solo cadenza that is startling in its emotional impact. The second movement sustains that pastoral mood, opening quietly in the high strings and with introspective, even reverential playing from Collins on the clarinet. Even more so than the opening movement, this is music very much in the English pastoral tradition. About two-thirds of the way through, the tempo and overall energy level pick up for a spell, but then things calm back down, the movement ending quietly. The final movement is considerably livelier and more energetic. Whereas the first two movements were quiet reflections on nature, taking the listener out into the meadows and fields, this final movement takes the listener for a merry imaginary jaunt down a country road, still in nature, but observing at a more determined pace, perhaps heading home with renewed energy and enthusiasm for life.

The engineering on this release is first-rate, from a team led by veteran soundsmith Mike Hatch. The orchestra sounds balanced, with not a trace of harshness to be heard. In the Concerto, the balance between clarinet and orchestra is just right, without the too-close miking of the soloist that would have exaggerated the perceived sonic size of his instrument. Although the liner notes (in English, German, and French) are not particularly expansive in scope, they do provide a helpful overview of the music. With more than 68 minutes of music, the disc is generously filled. One final item note about the physical package is that the disc is enclosed in a paper sleeve, a miniature version of the sleeves that cover vinyl records. Thank you, BIS, for this extra layer of protection!

As I noted above, this new recording of the RVW Symphony No. 5 is a very worthy addition to a crowded field. In addition to the fine performance and sound, and added attraction of this release is the delightful Finzi Clarinet Concerto. Indeed, most releases of the RVW Symphony No. 5 with another RVW symphony or some of his other works. That is all well and good, as just about anything composed by RVW is well worth hearing, but the music of Finzi is generally not nearly as familiar to many music lovers, meaning that this release might well serve to introduce this composer to folks who will then be inspired to seek out other music that they might otherwise have never heard. You can’t go wrong there, folks. Let your Finzi freak flag fly!

KWN

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

Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (CD review)

Also, Ponce: Concierto del sur; Garcia: China Sings! Junhong Kuang, guitar; Darrell Ang, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.579053.

By John J. Puccio

First, the contenders: The first stereo recording I ever heard of Rodrigo’s famous guitar concerto was by Narciso Yepes on a 1957 London (Decca) LP. So I have a fond affection for it, especially now that HDTT have remastered it. Then there is an equally good (and old) stereo recording from Angel Romero on Mercury and a later one on EMI that are also quite good; plus entries from Carlos Bonell (Decca), several from John Williams (Sony), several more from Julian Bream (RCA), another from Sharon Isbin (Warner), and still another from Christopher Parkening (EMI). The list pretty much goes on and on.

Now for the new contender: Junhong Kuang, with Darrell Ang and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic on Naxos. There is stiff competition for him, but the performance and recording quality certainly hold up their part of the show. Junhong Kuang is a young (b. 1999) classical guitarist who has won any number of competitions over the past decade and performed with a variety of topflight orchestras. The Rodrigo marks his second recording for Naxos.

You may remember that Spanish composer and pianist Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999) wrote the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra in 1939, and it eventually established Rodrigo’s reputation as a leading composer for the classical guitar. I say “eventually” because it wasn’t until Yepes and Argenta recorded it in monaural in the late Forties that it really took off.

Rodrigo described the first movement Allegro con spirito as "animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes interrupting its relentless pace." Certainly, Kuang’s performance is spirited and animated. If anything, it appeared to me faster than most, which actually isn’t the case. It’s just that Kuang’s playing is so virtuosic, so dazzling, it sounds quicker than it really is. To be sure, Kuang is letter perfect (or note perfect) and remarkably precise, yet his remarkable precision loses a little something in nuance. I didn’t feel as affected by either of Kuang’s first two movement readings as I did with Yepes or the Romeros. In any case, under Kuang the first movement remains fun, and it’s assuredly lively.

Junhong Kuang
The composer said that the second movement "represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments” (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn, etc.). What he didn’t say was how utterly beautiful it can be, something audiences have been saying for close to eighty years. Again, however, Kuang’s penchant for virtuosity works against him here more than anywhere else. I found his performance less sensitive than some of the aforementioned guitarists, although still graceful and lyrical enough.

Then there’s that perky little closing tune, the one Rodrigo said "recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar." It seemed to me the best judged of the three movements Kuang recorded.

The couplings--Manuel Ponce’s Concierto del sur and Gerald Garcia’s China Sings--get the same treatment as the Rodrigo, with virtuosic playing from the soloist and warmhearted accompaniment from Ang and his Czech Chamber Orchestra. The Ponce work is almost as famous as the Rodrigo and charming, to be sure. The Garcia piece, dedicated to Kuang, is less Spanish in flavor than the others (two popular Chinese tunes were the inspiration) and played by Kuang with obvious affection.

Producer Kiri Stilec and engineer Vclav Roubal recorded the music at the Dukla House of Culture, Pardubice, Czech Republic in August 2019. You may recall that at one time the Decca record company was known for its “Decca Sound.” Perhaps we should label Naxos orchestral recordings as having a “Naxos Sound.” It’s slightly soft, yet fairly well detailed, and exceptionally big and widely spread out. The guitar is nicely articulated and realistically integrated with the orchestra, not too far out in front. Depth perception is somewhat limited, though, while dynamics are only moderate and the upper midrange can occasionally display some shrillness.

JJP

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

Meet the Staff

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

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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