Some New Releases (CD mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

After being closed for many months because of the pandemic, a few days ago my favorite public library partially reopened. I stopped by to see what might be available and was pleasantly surprised by the amazingly large number of new classical CDs in the rack. I greedily grabbed 10 to check out, but by some strange machinations of moral reasoning I concluded that to take home 10 was just too darn greedy, so I wound up reconsidering my choices carefully and ended up walking out the door with a mere nine CDs and a 10% better opinion of myself. With neither the time, space, nor motivation to offer full reviews, I thought it would be at least useful to publish some brief remarks and recommendations concerning these recently become available releases; I hope this proves to be of at least some minor usefulness to our Classical Candor readers. “And away we go!”

Bach | Brahms | Berg: Antonio Chen Guang, piano. (Steinway & Sons 30069)
Pianist Antonio Chen Guang, winner of the first Olga Kern International Piano Competition has chosen a rather unusual program for this release, comprising Bach’s Italian Concerto, Brahms’s Variation and Fugue on a theme by Handel, and Berg’s Piano Sonata. To my ears, his performance of the Bach, one of my favorites, is a little smoother than ideal, but is still a fine performance in excellent sound. The elephant in the room for this CD is the sheer eclecticism of the program. Personally, I would rather listen to the Berg than the Brahms. Many others no doubt feel quite the opposite, but it is hard to imagine many folks being excited about this particular concatenation  of compositions by these particular three B’s, which might appeal as a one-time live recital performance but not so much as a CD to be played again and again.  

Beethoven Reimagined: Gabriel Prokofiev, electronics; Yaniv Segal, BBC National Orchestra of Wales. (Naxos 8.574020)
2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, replete with tributes of all sorts (although certainly diminished by the pandemic in terms of live events). Naxos gets into the spirit of things with a lively and stimulating release featuring an arrangement for orchestra of his Violin Sonata No. 7 by Garrett Schumann  (b. 1987) and conductor Yaniv Segal (b. 1981) that they have titled Sonata for Orchestra in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2b. No fancy tricks or sounds here, just a solid orchestral performance of a piece that sounds as if could have been composed by Beethoven, which of course it was, actually. Very nice! It is followed by A Fidelio Symphony, an instrumental suite arranged by Segal of music from Beethoven’s lone opera. Again, very straightforward and very nice. The final piece on the program is BEETHOVEN9 Symphonic Remix (2011) by Gabriel Prokofiev (b. 1975), which does give us some fancy tricks and sounds, as Prokofiev reimagines the final movement of Beethoven’s immortal Ninth in an arrangement for electronics and orchestra. Yes, it is strange trip, but it is also a joyous journey. All in all, Beethoven Reimagined succeeds brilliantly as an imaginative and enjoyable tribute to LvB.

British Violin Sonatas, Volume Three: York Bowen, Sonata op. 112; John Ireland, Sonata No. 2; James Francis Brown, The Hart’s Grace; William Alwyn, Sonatina; Eric Coates, First Meeting. Tasmin Little, violin; Piers Lane, piano. (Chandos CHAN 20133)
As you might expect by the time you get to a third volume of just about any recording project of this type, this program consists of works that are not widely known, especially on this side of the pond. But particularly for lovers of the violin, this is an interesting collection of some enjoyable music. Tasmin Little has had a long and distinguished career as one of the preeminent British violinists and she plays these pieces with skill and love. As a big fan of the orchestral music of William Alwyn, I was especially eager to audition his Sonatina, which turned out to be a real treat for my ears and soul. The Coates First Meeting, which was my first meeting indeed for this piece, ends the program wistfully and wondrously, capping a most enjoyable recital by musicians Little and Lane. If you enjoy music for the violin, then you really might want to give this fine recording a listen.

Cello Libris–Works by Geoffrey Gordon. Program includes Concerto for Cello and Orchestra; Fathoms; Ode to a Nightingale. Toke Muldrop, cello; Lan Shui, Copenhagen Phil; Mogens Dahl, Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir; Steven Beck, piano. (BIS 2330)
This is a disc likely to appeal foremost to those listeners not afraid of somewhat challenging contemporary music, especially those with a passion for the expressive capabilities of the cello. American-born composer Geoffrey Gordon (b. 1968) highlights the expressive capabilities of the cello in three rather varied and challenging works, each of which takes literature for its inspiration. The Concerto, which is in eight rather than the usual three or four movements, refers to Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. It is hardly tuneful, but those with a tolerance for more modern composition styles should not be driven out of the listening room and in fact may be swept away by the sheer energy of the playing. Next up is Fathoms for cello and piano, which consists of a prelude followed by five impressions of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Again, Moldrup’s cello gets quite a workout in this frenetic and imaginative extended sonata.  The final piece, Ode to a Nightingale, which refers to the Keats poem, combines cello and chamber choir in a composition that has some fascinating moments but strikes my ears at least as reaching a bit too far. If you are a fan of the cello and enjoy more “out there” music, this generously filled (81:40) release might be worth an audition. More conservative listeners will probably be well advised to pass. 

Ciurlionis: Kestutis Overture; In the Forest; The Sea. Modestas PitrĂ©nas, Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra (Ondine  ODE 1344-2)
It is always interesting to discover a new composer and delightful when the music turns out to be enjoyable. These three compositions by the Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875-1911) are all quite enjoyable and should appeal to a wide spectrum of classical music fans. They are squarely in the European tradition, tonal and tuneful, with drama and sweep, particularly in The Sea. Should you be looking to hear some enjoyable orchestral music that you most likely have never heard before, this fine new release from Ondine would be a good one to audition.

The Diabelli Project: Rudolf Buchbinder, piano. (Deutsche Grammophon 483 7707)
Those of us old enough to remember discovering rock music in that crazy decade of the mid-60s through the mid-70s well remember the “concept album” and the “double album,” exemplified in one fell swoop by the Who’s Tommy. Today, those of us still alive and kicking in the COVID-19 era, as well as those younger listeners who have developed an interest in classical music, now have a new concept double album to enjoy. This remarkable release from the venerable Rudolf Buchbinder consists of two CDs. The first contains Buchbinder’s performance of Beethoven’s Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli in C major, the second includes his performance of Diabelli’s original waltz followed first by New Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, comprising 11 variations by contemporary composers, which is in turn followed by eight variations penned by composers such as Hummel, Liszt, and Schubert. For those who delight in piano music, this thoughtfully imaginative release should be quite the delight.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for listening to the album with open ears and heart! Glad you enjoyed it. It was a very rewarding experience to delve into Beethoven from the perspective of trying to imagine what orchestrational choices he may have made... and was super fun getting into Gabriel's music and unique music as well. Thanks again!


Meet the Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa