Dec 30, 2020

Some New Releases (CD/SACD Mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

With COVID-19 still ravaging central Ohio, the library is still restricted to drive-through service, but that has not prevented me from auditioning some new discs, so allow me to offer some more abbreviated reviews of what I have been able to sample lately in hopes that you might see something that sounds as though it would be worth an audition in your listening room. Enjoy!

Balada: Works for Clarinet.  Ivan Ivanov, clarinet. Naxos 8.579056.

This program of chamber music by Spanish-born American composer Leonardo Balada (b. 1933) is fairly “modern-sounding” music, probably not for all tastes, but there are some wonderful passages that should bring a smile to those who, like yours truly, are a fool for a clarinet. The program opens with Caprichos No. 7 “Fantasies of La Tarara” from 2009, a chamber concerto for clarinet and instrumental ensemble, which on this recording comprises two violins, a cello, piano, and percussion. Ivanov explains in the liner notes that “caprichos” does not have the same connotation as the typically light-hearted “capriccio,” but rather is “closely associated with the series of etchings of that name by Goya… (that) harshly critique life in late 18th and early 19th century Spain, and do no shy away from depicting poverty, corruption, superstition, violence, and, most famously, the horrors of the 1810 Napoleonic invasion…” Yes, the music does get pretty intense. The shorter Caprichos No.7, also from 2009, is for clarinet and piano, a brief piece in four short movements with titles that in English are “Anger,” “Tears,” “Anguish,” and “Shivers.” Nope, not exactly light-hearted, but fascinating musically. The disc closes with Balada’s Double Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet and Orchestra, a 2010 composition that is performed here in a 2012 version for flute, clarinet, and piano. It is a 19-minute piece in one movement that offers passages of challenging intensity along with more lighthearted moments verging on playfulness. Again, this is not a not a release I would recommend to everyone, but if you have an adventurous ear – and especially if you are a fan of the clarinet – you might want to give it a listen.

Shostakovich: Cello Concertos. Alban Gerhardt, cello; Jukka-Pekka Saraste, WDR Sinfonieorchester. Hyperion CDA68340.

Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) gifted the musical world with many wondrous works, among them these two remarkable cello concertos.
Cello Concerto No. 1 from 1956 consists of four movements, marked Allegretto, Moderato, Cadenza, and Finale: Allegro con moto. I can’t resist quoting the liner notes about the way the concerto begins “with a fast, pithy four-note theme (marked piano) from the soloist, answered by a brief military tattoo from the orchestra. No previous cello concerto had ever opened like this, and the music’s fast, nervous pulse never slackens in this buoyant and colourful movement…” The piece really does grab the listener right from the git-go, especially when performed and recorded as remarkably as it is on this Hyperion release. In contrast, Cello Concerto No. 2, completed in 1996 when the composer was in ill health, is more somber and reflective, but despairingly so. It is scored for a larger than normal orchestra, but those forces are not unleashed all at once; rather, it sounds almost more like a piece for cello and chamber orchestra. The closing measures are haunting. The music just seems to drift away and disappear in the space of a few measure, a truly remarkable effect. Cellist Alban Gerhardt has some interesting things to say in his liner note essay (especially noteworthy are his remarks about Rostropovich), and he has certainly given us a masterly interpretation. My long-time favorite recording has been a 1990 RCA recording featuring cellist Natalia Gutman with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Yuri Temirkanov, but I have found this new Hyperion release to sound appreciably better, lacking the slight glare of the older recording, not to mention that Gerhardt’s playing is completely convincing. Once I can no longer renew my copy from the library, I may well look for a copy to purchase for my personal home audio library. I guess that must mean I recommend it highly…

Roger Eno and Brian Eno: Mixing Colours. Roger Eno, keyboards; Brian Eno, programming and sound design. Deutsche Grammophon 483 777 1.

Most classical music fans probably have no idea that Brian Eno was a co-founder of the glam-rock group Roxy music, or that he served as a producer of albums by U2, Talking Heads, James, and Devo; however, some may remember that he was a pioneer of ambient music who actually coined the term in his liner notes for his 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports
In 1983, he and his brother Roger Eno, along with Daniel Lanois, recorded the album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, music from which has been featured in several films. Now at long last the brothers Eno have made an album together, Mixing Colours (more information here), which straddles the line between ambient music and electronica, but which does not seem all that far removed from what might be considered “classical” keyboard music along the lines of some of the piano pieces of Pärt or Silvestrov. Its 18 selections encompass 75 minutes of reflective music, interesting enough to capture the imagination but relaxing enough to serve as background music for reading, cooking, working out, or whatever. Be forewarned, however, that it is cut at a pretty high level, so be sure to turn the volume down before pushing the PLAY button. (By the way, there is also now available an expanded version that includes 25 tracks, but I have not auditioned it.)

GoGo Penguin. Blue Note B003198202.

GoGo Penguin is an English jazz trio consisting of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner. Their music is reminiscent of the late lamented Esbjörn Svensson Trio, jazz with an adventurous energy informed by a rock-reminiscent vibe and overlaid occasionally with electronica, a kind of 21
st-century Keith Jarrett Trio had Keith at some point started listening to a lot of Radiohead. I hope that does not make them sound too crazy to appeal to either classical or jazz fans, for this really is an enjoyable recording, their best yet, with energy and imagination in abundance but never taken over the top.

Michael Hoppé: Peace and Reconciliation. Sedona Academy of Chamber Singers, Ryan Holder, conductor; Tetra String Quartet. Spring Hill Music SHM6076.

I had no idea what to expect from this one, having never heard of either Michael Hoppé or the Spring Hill label, but when I gave the CD a listen it proved to be a delightful surprise.
The Requiem for Peace and Reconciliation for choir and string quartet is a beautiful composition, and this arrangement works really well in establishing an intimate, reverential tone. It turns out that Hoppé is a composer more on the New Age side of things who has released 30 recordings during his career, but this particular release is decidedly “classical” in its form. The liner notes tell quite a story about how the piece came to be and what it signifies, which you can read more about here. If you are a fan of choral music, this release is well worth seeking out.

Bonus Recommendation:

The book Leading Tones by American conductor Leonard Slatkin (published in 2017 by Amadeus Press, ISBN 978-1-4950-9189-6) contains a bit of this and a bit of that, including sketches of some of his favorite musical figures, remarks about some of his favorite compositions, some stories from throughout his career, some insights into labor negotiations, some thoughts about music critics, and even some jokes. Nothing in here is especially in-depth or profound, but if you are a fan of classical music, you will find much to inform and entertain you. Slatkin turns out to be an interesting writer as well as a gifted conductor.


Dec 27, 2020

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major (CD review)

Also, 2 Romances. Midori, violin; Daniel Dodds, Festival Strings Lucerne. Warner Classics 0190295179205.

By John J. Puccio

It still seems like only yesterday to me that violinist Midori Goto (b. 1971) made headlines after a surprise appearance at Tanglewood with conductor Leonard Bernstein. That was in 1982, when Ms. Goto was only eleven years ago and had not yet decided to go by only the single name “Midori.” Today, she is no longer the child prodigy, but she is an honored musician worldwide with about two dozen record albums to her name.

With this latest recording, Midori tackles the Beethoven Violin Concerto, a project one might have expected her to have undertaken many years ago, given the popularity of the music. Perhaps better late than never, and fans of the violinist’s fluid, mellifluous style will no doubt find great satisfaction in the performance. For myself, I found Midor’s interpretation beautiful, to be sure, but at the same time somewhat languorous, and occasionally almost inanimate. To each his own.

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major in 1806, where it received an unsuccessful première and was practically shelved for the rest of the composer’s lifetime. He never published another violin concerto, so maybe his heart wasn’t in it. The world would have to wait until 1844 to see it brought back to life by violinist Joseph Joachim and conductor and composer Felix Mendelssohn, and, of course, it has been one of the leading concertos in the genre ever since.

The concerto begins with a lengthy and fairly laid-back introduction before the violin finally enters with some flourish. The slow, central Larghetto follows, and a lively Rondo caps things off. I found Midori’s particular style best suited here to the slow movement, where she is able to give free rein to her delicate tone. Compared to some of her colleagues on the violin, however, most the concerto sounded to me a little too tepid. Compare it, for instance, to the electrifying performance by Jascha Heifetz (RCA), the well-rounded version from James Ehnes (Onyx), the more traditional approaches of Itzhak Perlman (EMI) and Henryk Szeryng (Philips), as well as other contenders from Vadim Repin (DG), Gidon Kremer (Teldec), Arthur Grumiaux (Pentatone), and Rachel Baron Pine (Cedille). I’m not sure Midori’s performance quite stands up to these distinguished accounts, despite her complete mastery of the instrument.

Anyway, the recording begins with the Lucerne Festival Strings under director Daniel Dodds playing the opening section somewhat listlessly, which is probably what Midori wanted in order for the whole affair to coalesce around her ravishing but decidedly relaxed performance. Incidentally, the Festival Strings Lucerne was originally established as a chamber string orchestra, but Maestro Dodds adds further instruments as needed, such as here.

Understand, it isn’t that Midori’s tempos are slow or lethargic; they certainly are not. It’s just that she seems to prioritize a perfection of tone above musical color. So, while the performance is lovely to listen to, there isn’t a lot of passion in it. In her booklet notes, Midori indicates that she finds “Beethoven’s composition singularly sincere, beautiful, elegant, and noble,” and that’s the way she plays it. Personally, I would have opted for a little more vibrancy and fire, but that’s just me.

Coupled with the concerto are Beethoven’s two Romances for Violin and Orchestra, Nos. 1 in G major, Op. 40 (1803) and No. 2 in F major, Op. 50 (1798). Because he published the second of them first, it bears the designation No. 1. The two Romances are sort of precursors to the Violin Concerto, and whatever the numbering the F major Romance has always remained the more popular. The Romances have a graceful lyricism about them that nicely suits Midori’s graceful style, and I actually enjoyed them more than I did her performance of the Concerto.

Producer Wolfram Nehls and engineer Max Molling recorded the music at KKL Luzern, Switzerland in March 2020. The recording is quite nice, with everything sounding remarkably realistic, lifelike, without any undue brightness or edginess. Instruments appear smooth and well rounded, with good dynamics, air, and bloom. The solo violin is well placed, too, clearly the center of attention but not ten feet in front of the orchestra.


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

Dec 23, 2020

Richter: Voices (CD review)

Max Richter, piano, organ, synthesizers; Kiki Lane, narrator; Robert Ziegler, conductor; Grace Davidson, soprano; Mari Samuelsen, violin solo; Ian Burdge, cello solo; Camilla Pay, harp; Joby Burgess, percussion; plus various other singers and instrumentalists. Decca  B0032383-02.

By Karl W. Nehring

The German-born British composer Max Richter (b. 1966) has made a name for himself by striving to bring together elements of more traditional "classical" music with more contemporary instruments and sounds. His most well-known composition is probably his reworking of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (reviewed by JJP), while perhaps his most notorious composition is his 8-hour overnight opus Sleep. His 2020 release of Voices comes at a time when not only is the world suffering from a deadly pandemic, but also from cynical and sinister political machinations that threaten democratic institutions and societal norms throughout the world. The true, the good, and the beautiful are under attack by small-minded greedy egos in leadership positions. In a small but noble way, Richter’s Voices speaks to this perilous world situation by presenting words of hope and inspiration while reassuring us with some soothing and reassuring music.

Richter is straightforward in his rationale for his unusual composition: “ I like the idea of a piece of music as a place to think, and it is clear we all have some thinking to do at the moment. We live in a hugely challenging time and, looking around at the world we have made, it’s easy to feel hopeless or angry. But, just as the problems we face are of our own making, so their solutions are within our reach, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something that offers us a way forward. Although it isn’t a perfect document, the declaration does represent an inspiring vision for the possibility of better and kinder world.” You can see a brief video with Richter explaining more about the music and the recording here:

The work had its world premiere in February 2020, with more than 60 musicians performing live on the  London stage. According to the composer, the music involves a radical reimagining of the traditional orchestra formation. “It came out of this idea of the world being turned upside down, our sense of what’s normal being subverted, so I have turned the orchestra upside down in terms of the proportion of instruments.” He has scored the work for 12 double basses, 24 cellos, 6 violas, 8 violins, and a harp. They are joined by a wordless 12-piece choir as well as Richter on keyboards, violin soloist Mari Samuelsen, cello soloist Ian Burdge, percussionist Joby Burgess, soprano Grace Davidson and conductor Robert Ziegler.

The CD recording of Voices comprises two discs. The first highlights, as you might guess, voices, starting with a recording of Eleanor Roosevelt introducing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The recitation of this document is then conducted by various voices in various languages, with Richter’s music laying down a musical foundation. The second disc consists of the ten musical tracks mixed without the voices. The first disc is interesting to hear, with its blending of voices in many different languages, accents, and timbres along with musical interludes of great beauty. To be honest, though, it is not the kind of CD most listeners would want to play over and over again, making the inclusion of the second disc a welcome addition, for it is a substantial and satisfying collection of well-recorded music that is conducive to thought, relaxation, and straightforward musical enjoyment. Highlights include Richter’s meditative piano complementing Burdge’s earnest cello on track 2 (“Origins), the skillful blending of chorus and orchestra on track 3 (“Journey”), the artful blending of acoustic and electronic sounds on track 7 (“Murmuration”), and the soulful playing of Mari Samuelsen on track 10 (“Mercy”).

The engineering is truly top-notch. Blending orchestra, voices, recordings, electronic effects, and so forth could easily have ended up sounding gimmicky, but the recording comes across as quite natural and easy to enjoy. There is no harshness on top, but plenty of power on the bottom when needed. All in all, Voices is an unusual composition, but a stimulating and satisfying intellectual, emotional, and musical achievement.

Bonus Recommendation: Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen (b. 1935) is hardly a household name, but this BIS recording of three of his works for orchestra by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra conducted by Okko Kamu is well worth an audition. The program opens with Sunrise Serenade, which features trumpeters Kjell-Âke Pettersson and Per Falck. In under eight minutes, this piece creates an atmospheric mood of mystery and anticipation within a spacious sonic setting. Next up is the relatively brief (15:35) Symphony No. 2 (Symphonic Dialogue for Solo Percussion Player and Orchestra), a one-movement composition that highlights the energetic and versatile playing of percussionist Gert Mortensen. But no, the piece is much more than just banging around, it creates a musical world of wonder and mystery. The disc closes with Sallinen’s substantial Symphony No. 6 “From a New Zealand Diary,” which was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. The composer vacationed in New Zealand in early 1989 to help prepare himself for composing the work, which he completed in 1990. Its four movements are rich and atmospheric. None of the music on this disc is harsh, dissonant, or random-sounding. Indeed, it is inviting and rewarding, and recorded in excellent BIS sound by engineer Robert von Bahr.


Dec 20, 2020

Italian Postcards (CD review)

Music of Wolf, Mozart, Borenstein, and Tchaikovsky. Quartetto di Cremona, with Ori Kam and Eckart Runge. Avie AV2436.

By John J. Puccio

Italy has long been a favorite destination of travelers, vacationers, history buffs, music lovers, composers, and, well, just about everyone. From Lake Como, Venice, Milan, and Verona to the North through Rome and Sicily farther south, the country has offered artists a wealth of material to work with. Such is the case with Hugo Wolf, W.A. Mozart, Nimrod Borenstein, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, all of whom were inspired by the merits of the country. On the present disc, the Quartetto di Cremona and friends present four selections by the aforementioned composers in as sunny, Italianate performances as you could want.

For those of you unaware, the Quartetto di Cremona is an award-winning Italian string ensemble founded in Cremona, Italy in 2000. Their members are Cristiano Gualco, violin; Paolo Andreoli, violin; Simone Gramaglia, viola; and Giovanni Scaglione, cello. On the Tchaikovsky piece, they are joined by Ori Kam, viola, and Eckart Runge, cello. The quartet has appeared practically everywhere in the world and has recorded well over a dozen record albums.

The program begins with the Italian Serenade (1887), a short work (about seven minutes) by the Austrian composer Hugo Wolf (1860-1903). It is a favorite of string quartets worldwide, often played as an encore but here used as a curtain raiser. It works no matter how people use it. Wolf heard the melody while on holiday, and the Quartetto di Cremona play it with an appropriately sunny zest.

Next up is the String Quartet No. 1 in G, K. 80, “Lodi” (1770) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart wrote it at age fourteen while touring in Lodi, Lombardy. You may remember Lodi, California having a similar effect on the young John Fogarty some 200 years later. Something about the name, I suppose. Anyway, it was Mozart's first string quartet, with a finale he composed a few years later. The Cremona Quartet provide a lovely poignancy to the opening Adagio, which, unusual for a string quartet, is a slow movement. Then they add their aforementioned zest to the second, Allegro, movement and a regal presence to the Minuetto. Which is where it should have ended, but Mozart felt the need to be conventional and added a fourth movement, a closing Allegro. The Quartetto di Cremona have an uncanny knack for sounding like more than just four players, their sound rich, vibrant, and resplendent.

Following the Mozart piece is the only modern work on the agenda, Cieli d’Italia, Op. 88 by the British-French-Israeli composer Nimrod Borenstein (b. 1969). Despite being modern, it fits in nicely with the older classical and Romantic material. While its single movement is brief (about seven minutes), it manages to catch a lot of varying moods and a good deal of Italian charm. The composer describes it as having an “ethereal beauty and magical peacefulness...with episodes of great despair, courageous protest, and even playfulness.” He wrote it on a commission from the Quartetto di Cremona, who play it, one assumes, with authority.

The final selection on the album is the most substantial in terms of timing, the String Sextet in D minor, Op. 70, “Souvenir de Florence” (1890) by the Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Tchaikovsky wrote the piece while sketching one of its themes in Florence, Italy. On the present recording, Ori Kam, viola, and Eckart Runge, cello, sit in with the Cremona Quartet. Together, they produce a sound that comes close to seeming like a small chamber orchestra of strings, which is apt in that the piece works for the most part like a miniature symphony. The performance is wholly delightful, with plenty of emotional impact as well as sheer artistry and elegance.

Producer and engineer Michael Seberich recorded the music at Palazzina Banna, Tenuta Banna, Poirino (Torino) in December 2019. As with so many chamber recordings, this one is recorded somewhat closely. It’s great for clarity, detail, and dynamic impact but spreads out the players across the speakers a bit too wide. No matter, the recording sounds fine, with an especially welcome ambient bloom from venue.


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

Dec 16, 2020

Beethoven Revolution: Symphonies 1-5 (SACD review)

Jordi Savall, Le Concert des Nations. Alia Vox AVSA9937.

By Karl W. Nehring

Perhaps it was the pioneering set of Beethoven symphonies on period instruments that put me off the idea of period instrument performances of these symphonies. Norrington’s recordings at the time seemed fun, but they just did not seem to bear up to repeated listening. Later, I did come to enjoy David Zinman’s recordings with his Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, which combined the energy and brisk tempos of the “historically informed practices” approach of Norrington with a modern orchestra.

More recently, I found the 5-CD boxed set of Beethoven symphonies featuring the period-instrument Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique led by conductor John Eliot Gardiner for sale at an irresistibly low price at one of the several used book/media stores in the area whose shelves I peruse at regular intervals. (“Hello! My name is Karl and I am a CDaholic.”) This budget-priced box was released in 2010, replacing the set that was originally released in 1994. It proved to be an enjoyable set; as a bonus, my auditioning of it led me finally to appreciate Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, which I had pretty much completely ignored throughout my long so-called life. Although Gardiner may not usually be my first choice when I want to hear a Beethoven symphony, I have enjoyed the set thoroughly and do return to it from time to time.

Having had my interest in period-instrument recordings resuscitated and recharged by the Gardiner set, I was intrigued to hear these new renditions of Symphonies Nos. 1-5 by the Catalonian conductor, viol player, and early music specialist Jordi Savall (b. 1941) leading his hand-picked orchestra, Le Concert des Nations, which was formed in 1989 and features musicians primarily from Latin nations. Of the ensemble employed for these recording sessions, Savall writes in the liner notes that “all our orchestral work was done using instruments corresponding to those used in Beethoven’s day and with a similar number of musicians to those deployed by the composer for the first performances of his symphonies, in other words, about 55 to 60 musicians, depending on the symphonies. We have chosen 35 instrumentalists from the professional musicians of the Concert de Nations, including many who have been part of the ensemble since 1989, the remaining 20 instrumentalists being young musicians from different European countries and around the world who were selected from among the best of their generation at in-person auditions.”  (You can get a sense of the instrumental forces and venue for the recording sessions here and here.)

Regarding his approach to performing the Beethoven symphonies, Savall explains in his extensive liner essay that “we started with the basic idea of returning to the original sound and line-up of the orchestra as envisaged by Beethoven, constituted by the ensemble of instruments available in his day. Moreover, we needed to discover the original sources for the existing manuscripts, we studied and compared not only the autograph sources and the extant parts used in the first concert performances, but also modern editions based on those same sources, with the aim of verifying all the indications concerning dynamics and articulation.”

Truth be told, it seems these days that many recordings of Beethoven symphonies, particularly those that in one way or another claim to go back to the “original sound,” to be a “historically informed performance,” to go back to “Beethoven’s metronome markings,” or to be based on some “new critical edition of the score” come packaged with liner notes from the conductor explaining his or her insight into what this music should really sound like. Frankly, it gets a little old (see what I did there?), but Savall comes across as so utterly sincere and guileless that this seems to be more than just another marketing ploy, especially in light of his stated approach to the recording process: “From the outset it was obvious to us that the other key for our project would be the study period necessary to embark upon and bring to fruition such a major and complex task. Sufficient, ample time was one of the essential conditions necessary for a successful in-depth study of this collection of nine symphonies. To ensure the success of the work plan as well as a coherent distribution of the complete symphonies, we divided the nine symphonies into four major programmes with a view to preparing them over a period of two years. Each programme is studied and rehearsed, respectively, in the course of two separate Acadamies: the first academy of each pair, which we refer to as the “preparation Academy,” is devoted to reflection, experimentation, and definition dealing with all the essential elements of a successful performance. In the second “enhancement Academy,” the orchestra as a whole and each instrumentalist individually focus in on all aspects that are crucial to achieving a performance that is faithful to the spirit of each work. Symphonies 1, 2, and 4, which were scheduled and prepared in the spring of 2109, and Symphonies 3 and 5, which we worked on in the autumn of the same year, are those that we now have the pleasure of presenting to you in this first album.”   

And what an album this is! Here are the first five symphonies of Beethoven in performances that crackle with energy but never sound frantic or rushed, presented in recorded sound that is immediate, dynamic, and full-bodied. There are three SACDs in the set. SACD 1 includes Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, SACD 2 is devoted to Symphony No. 3 “Eroica,” and SACD includes Symphonies 4 and 5. My guess is that many listeners will skip right over SACD 1 (and yes, I must admit that it has been and will be the disc that gets the least playing time in my system), but that would be their loss, as the first two symphonies of Beethoven, especially when presented in crackling performances and powerful yet natural sound as they are here are well worth hearing, savoring, and hearing again. As I mentioned above, Gardiner led me to discover Symphony No. 2. Savall has not only deepened my devotion to that work, but he has also led me to discover that most neglected of all Beethoven’s symphonies, Symphony No. 1. Yes, I would imagine that for most listeners, as it will be for me, SACD 1 will be played the least of this set, but I do hope it will not be completely overlooked by anyone. It has much to offer!

Because of the near-mythical status of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, my further guess is that SACD 3 will be the first disc that most listeners will pop into their players. The performance of No. 4, though, should not be skipped over. This is a delightful symphony, bursting with energy. Of particular note in the Savall set is the sound of the tympani, projected with power but not through spotlighting or overemphasis. In Symphony No. 4, the sound of the tympani highlights the drive and energy found in this music. And as you might expect, Savall and his players do a fine job of bringing energy to Symphony No 5. Theirs is a fine performance, moving right along and making the music come to life. In a future installment of Classical Candor I will be comparing this recording of the 5th with several other notable recordings, a listening experience to which I am looking eagerly forward.

For my money, though, the real highlight of this release is their performance of the Eroica. The opening movement has never sounded so exciting to me. Wow! There are many ways to interpret this work (more about that below), but Savall, Le Concert des Nations, and the engineering team have truly produced something undeniably heroic. I’m not sure theirs is my favorite version of the symphony as a whole, although it is certainly right up there, but I find their performance of the opening Allegro con brio the most exciting I have ever auditioned. My goodness…

The planning, preparation, and passion that Savall, his players, the recording engineer (Manuel Mohino), and the Alia Vox staff who produced the meticulously conceived and beautifully executed physical package (one of the finest I have ever run across) have brought to this project have resulted in a Beethoven box that excels in every way. Not every music lover will prefer the period-instrument approach, but if you are a Beethoven fan who is looking for a really first-class recording of these symphonies, this is definitely a set to consider regardless of your opinion of period-instrument approaches to Beethoven. This is reference-quality Beethoven, no doubt about it.

If you do wind up auditioning and enjoying this album, you will very likely find yourself looking forward to hearing what Savall and his crew can bring to the final four Beethoven symphonies. Unfortunately, it is not clear when the rest of the set might become available. Savall explains, “it was our intention to finish our version of the complete Symphonies in 2020, concentrating on Symphonies 6 and 7 in the spring and Symphonies 8 and 9 during the months of August and October. Of course, all these plans are now on hold because of the social consequences of the tragic pandemic currently affecting the world, and nobody can predict what will be possible in this uncertain future. Depending on the evolution of the pandemic, therefore, we shall see what we are able to do regarding the second part of our Complete Beethoven Symphony project.”  Meanwhile, at least we have this set to savor.

Bonus Recommendations: In light of the excellence Savall recording of Beethoven’s Eroica, let me pass along some quick recommendations on some other fine recordings with which I am quite familiar. As I mentioned above, David Zinman and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (Pro Arte ANO 592140) offer a brisk, refreshing performance that combines a nod to Beethoven’s tempo markings with the sonority of a modern orchestra. It is coupled with an equally attractive version of Symphony No. 4. A much different take on the Eroica is offered by Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI Classics 7243 5 67741 2 4). This is a magisterial account, slow and noble. Don’t be put off by the mono sound, this truly is a “Great Recording of the Century” as the CD cover proclaims. Discmates include Leonore Overtures Nos. 1 & 2. Still something of an old-school performance but in stereo sound is Bruno Walter’s account with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (a crack studio orchestra assembled in California for the express purpose of giving Walter a chance to record the Beethoven symphonies in stereophonic sound), a loving, flowing rendition of the symphony that is well worth seeking out (CBS Maestro MYK 42599), Walter’s performance is coupled with the Coriolan Overture. A straightforward, well-recorded account by Christoph von Dohnanyi leading the superb Cleveland Orchestra is available on Telarc (CD-80090), a disc that includes just the Eroica. Finally, a relative newcomer (released in 2018) is the Honeck/Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra version on Reference Recordings (FR-728SACD), taken from live performance that is captured in splendid sound quality by the technical wizards at Soundmirror. Not surprisingly these days, Honeck has points to make about the music and his approach to it in his extensive liner notes, including his fascinating opening remark, “I view all four movements of the ‘Eroica’ as dance movements, each one with a distinctive character.” He then goes on to dig deeply into the music, in his closing paragraph asserting, “In conclusion, it is clear to me that the ‘Eroica’ paved a new path forward as a dance symphony with dramatic inventiveness, full of new elements that had never been heard before, I am sure that music lovers in the time of Beethoven were not at all ready for this radical originality and I can only imagine how shocking it must have been for them. The modern ear, though, in our current day and age, and now over 200 years removed from the time of the ‘Eroica’s’ premiere, has become accustomed to many of these sounds and only absorbs and register them as extreme when they are intensified. And this is exactly what I have tried to work out clearly in this recording, as it was my intention in these performances that one can experience the novelties of the ‘Eroica’ as one might have for the very first time.” Hmmmmm. I’m not quite sure what to make of that, but it is an energetic and splendidly engineered account, for which the unexpected but dazzlingly delightful coupling is Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1.
For those music lovers who thrive on such things, here are the comparative movement timings for these recordings. Enjoy!











































Dec 13, 2020

Souvenirs of Spain and Italy (CD review)

Music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Vivaldi, Turina, and Boccherini. Sharon Isbin, guitar; Pacifica Quartet. Cedille CDR 90000 190.

By John J. Puccio

Sharon Isbin is an American classical guitarist, the founding director of the guitar department at the Juilliard School, a winner of multiple Grammy Awards, and a soloist with over 200 orchestras throughout the world. In other words, she knows what she’s doing. She began studying the guitar at the age of nine, she has recorded well over two dozen albums since her recording debut in 1978, and she has been going strong ever since.

Ms. Isbin is accompanied on the album Souvenirs of Spain and Italy by the Pacifica Quartet: Simin Ganatra, violin; Austin Hartman, violin; Mark Holloway, viola; and Brandon Vamos, cello. They perform four pieces by Spanish and Italian composers, giving us a little taste of both countries. To say that the performances are polished and sparkling would be an understatement.

First up on the agenda is the Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, written in 1950 by the Italian composer, writer, and pianist Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968). The composer described himself as “anti-modernist,” so the listener needn’t worry that we’re getting anything noisy, atonal, or avant-garde. In fact, the four movements are lovely, lyrical, with a poignant melody in the Andante. Ms. Isbin’s guitar playing is light and delicate when needed and robust in the finale.

Next up is the Concerto in D Major, written in the 1730s by Italian composer, violinist, teacher, impresario, and priest Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). He originally wrote it for lute, strings, and continuo, but here we find it arranged and edited for guitar and strings by Emilio Pujol and Sharon Isbin. It sounds typically Vivaldi, although Ms. Isbin and her friends play it perhaps a shade more subtly, more gracefully than one usually hears from this composer.

After that is La oracion del torero for string quartet (“The Bullfighters Prayer”), written in 1925 and reworked in 1936 by Spanish composer Joaquin Turina (1882-1949). It’s a single, short piece, about eight minutes long, with a varying and colorful character. The quartet plays it alone with color and character, a sweetly engaging performance.

The program closes with the Quintet for Guitar and String quartet No. 4 in D Major “Fandango,” transcribed by the Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) from his own earlier quintet. It’s an elegant, flowing piece that was, for me, the highlight of an excellent set, combining the best of Italy and Spain. It makes an attractive way to end an entirely winning disc.

Producer Judith Sherman and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the music at Auer Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana in January 2019. The sound is a trifle close-up, but it doesn’t distract from the music. The spacing of the players is especially distinct, and the instruments display good detail and clarity without a trace of brightness or hardness. It’s sound that should appeal to everyone, from audiophiles to earbud wearers.


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

Dec 9, 2020

Bach, Mozart, and Silvestrov for Piano (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Bach: Goldberg Variations
. Lang Lang, piano. Deutsche Grammophon 481 9701.

The deluxe edition of Lang Lang’s new recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations has an imposing physical presence. It looks and feels like a small hardbound book, the cover of which features a photograph of the pianist leafing through the score. Bound within are slipcases for four discs and a booklet of nearly 50 pages in there are printed liner notes in three languages (English, German, and French) plus numerous artistic-looking photographs of Lang Lang in various poses and venues. Clearly, this is a release that is intended to make a statement, and make a statement it does, both in its physical form and more importantly, in its musical content. You can view a promotional video for this release

Bach’s Goldberg Variations represent a musical touchstone for keyboard players, both for the harpsichord and the piano. Over the years there have been many recordings on both instruments (not to mention arrangements for other instruments) by many musicians, both famous and relatively unknown. Among the most memorable recordings are two by the late Canadian pianist Glenn  Gould, which you can read about

There are numerous other fine performances available, of course, and right off the top of my head I can rattle off a few that I have especially enjoyed over the years, including performances on piano by Murray Perahia, Jeremy Denk (whose CD comes packaged with a fascinating DVD inn which Denk comments on the music, demonstrating motifs and other features of the music at the keyboard), Simone Dinnerstein, Andras Schiff, and Peter Serkin, plus harpsichord  performances by Trevor Pinnock, Keith Jarrett (yes, that Keith Jarrett), and Anthony Newman (a fast, energetic, colorful, take-no-prisoners account, a kind of analog of Gould ‘55).

So, where does this extravagantly packaged recording by the relatively young Chinese superstar pianist fit in? The fact that both the studio and live recordings take up two CDs each signals us from the git-go that these are definitely not going to be swift performances in the manner of the 1955 Gould, or even the more mellow 1981 Gould, for that matter. In fact, the total timing for Gould 1955 is 38:26. In stark contrast, the first disc of Lang Lang’s studio recording is 43:29. Yes, in 1955, Gould knocked off the complete Goldbergs five minutes faster than Lang Lang takes to get through the opening Aria and Variations 1-15. Yes, you have to then switch to the second disc to hear Variations 16-30 and the reprise of the Aria. As you might guess, Lang Lang takes repeats that Gould does not. Gould’s more relaxed 1981 version clocks in at 51:14; significantly longer than his 1955 version, but still nowhere near needing two CDs to encompass. Perahia, Denk (who takes the repeats), and Schiff all manage to fit into the space of once disc. In Lang Lang’s versions, however, both studio (91:27) and live (92:56) require two CDs. Yes, Lang Lang lingers.

Lang Lang's lingering is not in itself a bad thing. In his liner notes, the pianist explains that “I’ve been studying this work for more than 20 years, and recording it has been a lifelong dream. I’ve never spent so much time on one piece. You get nearer to it, sink deeper into it, find some distance, and then go back to it again. I worked on the music every day, noting down new ideas all the time in four different scores.” His love of the Goldbergs permeates both performances. He savors this music, dives deeply into it, and wrings as much musical beauty as he can out of it. If that means his performance is going to stretch out over 90 minutes, then so be it. The net result is a performance -- two performances, in this case -- like none you have ever heard before. Slow, yes, but beautiful. Lang Lang lingers lovingly.

Of course, one drawback of his approach is that for those listeners with a single-disc CD player, a break is going to occur in the middle of the session. Those who have multi-disc players or who listen by streaming will not have this problem, but my guess is that most folks reading this review have single-disc players. On the other hand, we might do well to recall that back in the old vinyl days, to play even the superfast 1955 “Gouldbergs” necessitated flipping the LP (“long-playing” vinyl discs did not actually play all that long, we realize now in retrospect). But for those willing to take a quick bathroom break or whatever mid-Goldbergs, the reward is significant, for these are remarkable performances that take the listener deep into the music. Of the two performances, my personal preference is for the live version, which is recorded with, not surprisingly, a better sense of space. Other listeners might well prefer the studio version, which can be purchased for a lower price than the deluxe edition that includes the live version. If you really want to get into the Goldbergs, the deluxe edition is the way to go, Even folks who already own a favorite or three versions might want to give Lang Lang an audition, for he brings a unique, intense, and revealing perspective to this remarkable music. It might well be too idiosyncratic an interpretation to be an appropriate choice for those looking for a first recording (for those listeners, I would suggest the 1981 Gould or perhaps even better the Denk, whose included DVD offers an incisive and educational introduction to the music), but those who are already familiar with Bach’s masterpiece might well find Lang Lang’s version an ear-opening experience.

The Messenger: Works by Mozart and Silvestrov
. Helene Grimaud, piano; Camerata Salzburg. Deutsche Grammophon 483 7853.

Pianist Helene Grimaud has put together an interesting program of works by a composer known to virtually all classical fans (and even a goodly number of non-fans) plus some works by a composer not nearly as widely known. The idea seems to be a noble one, but I do wonder how many Mozart lovers are going to be interested in a program that also includes works by a contemporary composer. I hope there are some music lovers out there who might already be interested in such a program, but for those who are skeptical (or even, heaven forbid, cynical), I will try to do my humble best to make a case for the program that Grimaud has pulled together for this enjoyable recording.

Now, if you happen to be one of those many classical music lovers who are unfamiliar with the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937), let me assure that his compositions that are included in this release are neither difficult, dissonant, nor demanding. Indeed, they fit right into the musical soundscape of the Mozart, which is presumably one of the main points that Grimaud had in mind when she conceived of this unusual pairing of composers so widely separated from each other in both time and space.

The disc opens with three pieces by Mozart, all in a minor key. As the opening notes of the Fantasia in D minor unfold, it is clear that Grimaud is giving us a Romantic interpretation of Mozart’s music. The piano sound is big and bold and her playing is highly expressive, with plenty of tempo fluctuations, pauses, and highlighting. Moving from solo piano to concerto, Grimaud brings that same lush, Romantic style to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, one of the composer’s most well-known and well-loved masterpieces (here). The net result is dramatic, but perhaps a touch too expressive. For comparison, I listened to Murray Perahia with the English Chamber Orchestra from his boxed set and played a DVD featuring Mitsuko Uchida, also with Camerata Salzburg. Both performances were expressive, more so than I remembered, not having played either in quite some time. However, neither seemed quite so florid as Grimaud. Some listeners will love her approach, others might find it a bit over the top. Different strokes for different folks.

The remainder of the program comprises music by Silvestrov, beginning with the work that gives this album its title, The Messenger. Actually, this work appears twice, first of which is a version for piano and string orchestra. The piece has a nostalgic, dusky glow that Grimaud underlines with her wistful, expressive approach, much as she did in  the Mozart. Adding to the dreamlike ambience of this version are the subtle sound effects (the rustling of breezes) blended in by the sound engineer, Stephan Flock. Next up is Silvestrov’s Two Dialogues with Postscript. which consists of three short movements. Silvestrov’s intention in this composition is in sync with Grimaud’s intention in putting music from two different eras together. The Two Dialogues are first with Schubert, in a movement that Silvestrov titles “Wedding Waltz,” while the second is with Wagner, in a movement he titles “Postludium.” These are fascinating little pieces, sounding at once dreamlike yet direct. The piano seems to be recorded more distantly than it was in the Mozart, adding to the overall sensation of music originating from somewhere distant in both time and space. Interestingly, Silvestrov gives credit to both Schubert and Wagner, in fact listing them as co-composers. The third movement (the Postscript, by Silvestrov alone), titled “Morning Serenade,” continues in that same dreamlike fashion. The final selection on the album is the solo piano version of The Messenger. As she did in the Mozart, Grimaud tends to linger, to pause, and to heighten the emotional impact of the music. The ending is a quiet chord that just flickers in darkness before being swallowed by silence. It is in its own quiet way an amazing, thought-provoking musical effect. Sigh…

The overall impression made by the Silvestrov compositions after hearing the Mozart compostions is that we are now experiencing the musical mood of the Mozart works from a reflective, nostalgic, half-imagined perspective. Although the Mozart pieces are all in a minor key, they still exude energy and assertiveness, especially as performed with such flair as Grimaud brings to bear on them, while the Silvestrov pieces have a softer, more diffuse form of energy, captured in softer focus. The effect is underscored by the engineering, with the Mozart selections being captured closer more vividly and up-front than the Silvestrov, which are presented in a more diffuse, ambient sonic portraiture. The program makes sense, it satisfies both musically and intellectually, and it invites the listener to explore music both old and new with an open mind and active ear.

Bonus Recommendations
My first bonus recommendation is for a disc that is, sadly enough, apparently out of print. There are a few copies available out there available online for relatively high prices, but you might get lucky as I did and find a copy for two bucks in the clearance section of a used-book/media store. At any rate, Franz Liszt: Transcriptions from the Operas of Richard Wagner by pianist David Allen Wehr (Connoisseur Society CD 4199) is a highly enjoyable, well recorded recital of Liszt’s reworkings for solo piano of the music of Wagner. It includes four “free paraphrases,” a “virtuoso fantasy,” and four transcriptions. As you can well imagine from the idea of a combination of Wagner and Liszt, this is thoroughly Romantic music in a grand style, a feast for the senses. No, I would not recommend you rush out and spend thirty bucks on a copy, if you can even find one, but if you ever see a copy at a reasonable price, grab it!

My other bonus recommendation is, mercifully enough, widely available for a reasonable price. The late jazz guitarist Jim Hall (1930-2013) recorded Concierto (CTI ZK 65132) in 1975 with a dream-team roster that includes Chet Baker on trumpet, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums. The set list includes a couple of Hall originals, a Hall/Carter composition, one tune each from Cole Porter and Ellington/Strayhorn, and one that should be of special interest to classical music fans, a 19-minute arrangement of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Tasty, tasty stuff, and very nutritious. My only quibble is with the engineering. It is very clean in the best Rudy Van Gelder style, but lacks bass extension and fullness. Still, this is a wonderful release, one that should appeal to jazz and classical fans alike.


To hear a brief excerpt from the Bach album, click here:

Dec 6, 2020

Art of the Mandolin (CD review)

Music of Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bruce, Sollima, Scarlatti, Ben-Haim, and Henze. Avi Avital, mandolin; Alon Sariel, mandolin; Sean Shibe, guitar; Anneleen Lenaerts, harp; Ophira Zakai, theorbo; Patrick Sepec, cello; Yizhar Karshon, harpsichord; Venice Baroque Orchestra. DG 00289 483 8534.

By John J. Puccio

Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital (b. 1978) made his debut album some years ago on the Naxos label and has since followed it up with several more albums for DG, including this one, called simply Art of the Mandolin, and featuring music by Vivaldi, Beethoven, Bruce, Sollima, Scarlatti, Ben-Haim, and Henze. Although Avital’s speciality may be music of the Baroque period, the selections on the present album span everything from the Baroque era to the present.

As I said of Avital in an earlier review, he “is unquestionably a fine mandolin player, his tone sweet and fluid, his tempos well judged, neither too breakneck fast nor too maddeningly slack, and his natural affinity for the instrument always in evidence in his intonation and flexibility.” Certainly, the same can be said about his playing this time around as well.

The mandolin, if you’re not quite sure about it, is a stringed musical instrument in the lute family, usually plucked with a small piece of plastic, metal, or ivory. It commonly has four adjacent rows of doubled metal strings tuned in unison (8 strings), although five (10 strings) and six (12 strings) versions are also popular. Mandolins developed from the lute family of instruments in Europe, and some their predecessors include the gittern and mandola in Italy during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There are a number of regional variants but two of the most common ones are the Neapolitan mandolin and the Lombardic mandolin, the Neapolitan style probably most well known (and thank you, Wikipedia).

Anyway, the album begins with the Concerto for 2 Mandolins, Strings and Basso continuo in G major by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). Here, Avital is accompanied by Alan Sariel, mandolin, and the Venice Baroque Orchestra. They take the outer Allegros with a graceful panache, not too fast but quick enough to give them a lively spirit. These sections also give the soloists a chance to show off their considerable skills, and the final movement is particularly robust. The central Andante is delicately handled, light as a feather, sweet as a flower in May. Quite lovely all the way around, actually.

Next, we hear the Adagio ma non troppo in E flat major for Mandolin and Harp by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Avital is accompanied by Anneleen Lenaerts on harp, and together they provide a beautifully lyrical reading of Beethoven’s music. It is a love song, really, and the pair do well by it.

After that is Death Is a Friend of Ours by British composer David Bruce (b. 1970), with Avital, mandolin; Sean Shibe, guitar; Anneleen Lenaerts, harp; Ophira Zakai, theorbo; and Yizhar Karshon, harpsichord. Here we get a surprising throwback for a modern work, combining the best of the nineteenth century with a distinctly contemporary sensibility. It’s vibrant and rhythmic with a charming middle section. It’s all quite festive, in fact, despite the rather gloomy titles the composer gave to the movements: “Inside the Wave,” “The Death of Despair,” and “Death Is a Friend of Ours.”

Things continue with the Prelude for Solo Mandolin by Italian composer and cellist Giovanni Sollima (b. 1962), in which Avital obviously takes it alone. It’s the most-recent composition on the program, yet it references older styles and dances. It’s also probably the most fascinating and imaginative piece on the agenda. Avital’s playing is a revelation.

Following that is the Sonata in D minor for Mandolin and Basso continuo by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). Here, Avital is accompanied Ophira Zakai, theorbo; Patrick Sepec, cello; and Yizhar Karshon, harpsichord. Scarlatti’s work is stately and dignified, The fact that the composer may not have been written the piece specifically for the mandolin is beside the point. Surviving manuscripts do not indicate what solo instrument Scarlatti had in mind, but the music seems well suited to the mandolin, and Avital appears to enjoy it.

Then there is the Sonata a tre for Mandolin, Guitar and Harpsichord by Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), where Avital is accompanied by Sean Shibe, guitar, and Yizhar Karshon, harpsichord. Here, the music references Middle-Eastern sounds, and it makes a nice contrast with the rest of the lineup.

The program concludes with the Carillon, Recitatif, and Masque for Mandolin, Guitar and Harp by German composer Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012). Avital is accompanied by Sean Shibe, guitar, and Anneleen Lenaerts, harp. The three movements well describe the sounds therein, and Avital and company do a good job delineating them. Avital says he likes to think of the opening section as “a walk through an imaginary toyshop.” The sounds are creative in themselves and creatively explored by the soloists, whose three instruments blend into one.

Producer Andreas Neubronner and engineers Sebastian Nattkemper and Rainer Maillard recorded the music at Stadttheater, Furth; Teldex Studio, Berlin; and Meistersaal, Berlin. As we might expect from DG, the sound is clear and rich, with a hint of hall resonance to complement the realism of each track.


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa