On Rational Selection--Part II…

By Bryan Geyer

In Part I, I listed the most important specifications that should be reviewed when selecting an appropriate power amplifier. These truly critical parameters included…

            …size and appearance.

            …input impedance (Zin).

            …output impedance (Zout).

            …power output capability.

            …voltage gain; i.e., input sensitivity.

Now let’s look at some other specs that merit attention. These aren’t quite so vital as the essential considerations that were listed in Part I, where appropriate compatibility was the main objective. Instead, these specs reflect basic quality-related issues, such as…

SIGNAL-TO-NOISE (s/n) RATIO: Freedom from hum will be highly dependent on power supply design and grounding issues. Freedom from noise will generally trace to circuit design and component selection variables. It’s desirable to exhibit a wide spread (e.g., a difference of 100dB or more) between the value of a given output signal (the modern reference is 1Vrms) and the residual detected when there’s no input signal (input shorted). This represents the amplifier’s innate signal-to-noise (s/n) ratio. It’s commonly measured through a filter (it’s “A-weighted”) to emphasize audible frequencies rather than ambient hum or response beyond the audible spectrum. If the consequent noise reading is 10µVrms, the related s/n would be -100dB relative to a 1Vrms reference. A fine quality solid-state power amplifier of current design will meet -110dB (re 1Vrms) s/n ratio. A 90dB s/n ratio is certainly not state-of-the-art, but it’s relatively acceptable. A s/n ratio that dips to -80dB (0.1mVrms re. 1Vrms) means that you’ll start to hear some annoying background hiss from your loudspeakers, dependent on their efficiency. Of course, all vacuum tube power amplifiers produce poor signal-to-noise ratios—it’s an inherent limitation.

QUIESCENT DC OFFSET VOLTAGE: Well, it’s just nuts to neglect checking your power amplifier for DC offset. It’s easily measured with almost any DC voltmeter, and it’s vital that offset be minimized. Do it! Check this column for background info.: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2019/10/on-power-amplifier-dc-offset.html

FREQUENCY RESPONSE, DISTORTION, & DAMPING FACTOR: These specs were once of vital concern in expressing the efficacy of a power amplifier. That’s no longer the case today because virtually every solid-state power amplifier exhibits near-perfection with respect to its innate frequency response and distortion performance. Ditto for damping factor, as that parameter is directly related to a solid-state amplifier’s ultra-low output impedance; refer Part I of this paper. As a consequence, you can safely skip these three specifications when ranking the merits of solid-state power amplifiers. Any divergence will be too small to justify analysis. Conversely, there are operating characteristics that you should research, such as…

INPUT OPTIONS: If it’s your intent to apply balanced interconnects, make certain that the required XLR sockets are provided. I don’t personally recommend the use of XLR balanced interconnects in a normal home stereo installation (refer “On Noise, Coax, and Control” at https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2020/08/on-noise-coax-and-control.html); however, you might want that option. Balanced in/out connections are of great benefit when operating in noisy environs, but typically present no measurable advantage in benign home environs. XLR plugs and sockets derive from an archaic vintage (see https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2019/10/on-equipment-interface-options.html), so they’re grossly oversized and generally awkward to accommodate.

Most modern power amplifiers now offer both XLR (balanced) and RCA-type (unbalanced) inputs, although some older units might lack the XLR option. Confirm (view back panel photo) that you’ll get what you want. To the best of my knowledge, there’s just one power amplifier on the commercial market that provides XLR balanced stereo inputs but NO unbalanced (RCA-type) stereo inputs, and that’s the Benchmark AHB2. They offer short RCA-to-XLR adapter cables to accommodate users that require unbalanced input compatibility.

POWER LINE PROVISIONS: Verify that any power amplifier of interest will be compatible with the power line provisions available at the site where the amplifier is to be installed. This implies more than merely confirming that the AC supply voltage and power line frequency are compatible—it should also encompass the AC current drain (AC line load) compatibility. Refer “On Assuring Adequate AC Power” at https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2020/05/audio-tech-talk.html.

TURN-ON and TURN-OFF PROVISIONS: While it’s always possible to turn your power amplifier on/off manually, via a switch that’s wired in series with the power supply, there are potentially more convenient options to consider. Here are some popular automatic control options…

(1)  Turn on/off via a low voltage (12-15V) DC control signal: This is a popular turn-on option. It’s commonly offered on many modern power amplifiers and on other peripheral components.

(2)  Turn on/off via signal sensing: The amp senses an audio input, then turns on. The turn on sensitivity setting is generally variable, via a back-panel switch or pot, so that background noise won’t be sufficient to falsely trigger operation. The off function is generally based on a time delay; i.e., when no input signal is detected for a specified period of time (e.g., 5 minutes) the amplifier then turns off.

In either case, it’s helpful to have a power amplifier that connects the input signal path only after a momentary (relay-controlled) sequential delay. That permits the initial DC power-up surge to “settle out” first, so that there’s no audible turn-on “thump”; i.e, no sound output until the amplifier’s internal DC power supply has stabilized.

IN THE FUTURE: As you consider these issues, do bear in mind that the days of a stand-alone stereo power amplifier look limited. The current design trend is to fully integrate the power amplifier with the loudspeaker system. Future audio systems will reflect that preference, especially when listeners learn to appreciate that…

…it’s more accurate to use active—rather than passive—crossover networks to feed the drivers in a speaker system with their intended passbands.

…low bass frequencies (those < 60 Hz) can be more accurately produced by separate self-powered subwoofers than by an integrated driver that must also handle all of the mid-bass frequencies (to 600 Hz) as well. The best top quality speaker systems will no longer include multiple large diameter woofers because we’ve learned that the classic all-in-one-box approach is an inferior and outmoded way to implement a full spectrum sound system.

BG (February 2021)

Al Andalus (CD review)

Musique Arabo-Andalouse. Gregorio Paniagua, Atrium Musicae Madrid. Harmonia Mundi HMM 93389.

By John J. Puccio

First, a bit of history: Al-Andalus is the name of the area of the former Islamic states in Iberia, a domain that at one time occupied most of the Spanish and Portuguese peninsula and a part of southern France and beyond. Arab or Berber rulers controlled these areas at various times between 711 and 1492, although national boundaries changed constantly as conflicts with neighboring Christian countries continued.

During the Middle Ages, Al-Andalus became, as the CD booklet notes explain, “a centre of culture and of influence on the rest of mediaeval Europe. At that period Europe had not yet attained a level of civilization comparable with the splendour and extreme sophistication enjoyed by the inhabitants of Southern Spain. Music flourished with particular vigour in Al Andalus, protected by the patronage of the emirs, princes and caliphs, studied by the most illustrious theoreticians and played by the most remarkable performers. Arabic-Andalusian or Hispanic-Moslem music as been transmitted solely by oral tradition.” It is those oral traditions that the period-instrument group Atrium Musicae de Madrid and their leader Gregorio Paniagua follow in presenting the music of the album.

Members of Atrium Musicae de Madrid include Gregorio Paniagua, Eduardo Paniagua, Cristina Ubeda, Pablo Cano, Beatriz Amo (who also wrote the booklet notes), Luis Paniagua, and Carlos Paniagua. Yes, it was mostly a family affair, at least at the time of this recording in the mid 1970’s. They play on instruments hard to pronounce and even harder to spell. Suffice it to say that they all get into the spirit of the thing and produce some interesting and, for most of us today, unique sounds.

Gregorio Paniagua founded Atrium Musicae de Madrid in 1964, and they performed together for almost twenty years, finally disbanding in the early 1980’s. Several of their albums became quite well known, including two that I’ve had in my collection for over forty years: Musique de la Grece Antigue (Harmonia Mundi HM 90.1015) and La Spagna (BIS CD-163). Together with Al Andalus, the albums provide a valuable insight into the music of a long-ago time.

If there is any drawback to the Al Andalus album, it is its length. It’s only forty-two minutes long, which is pretty short measure by current standards; especially by CD standards, with discs capable of playing nearly twice that content. But we have on the CD what the old vinyl LP gave us, and we shouldn’t complain. It’s the substance that counts.

The music is about what one would expect of tunes from medieval Arabic days. It influenced composers like Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov, who tried to emulate at least the feeling of such music in more modern times. The booklet notes tell us that the musical form most commonly followed by Arabic-Andalusian composers was the Nouba, a series or suite of songs grouped together in different movements. There are some variables, but things are pretty well established, and the Atrium Musicae folks say the pieces constituting the album are “like a mosaic of the most beautiful fragments of some of the Noubas which have survived.” Whatever, it’s all quite lovely and pleasantly listenable.

As for the playing, because I am unfamiliar with the music, with the instruments involved, and with the performers (except on the aforementioned two other albums), I cannot say definitively that they are the best at what they do. But what I can say is that they appear to know what they’re doing, and they make beautiful music together, mostly tranquil, meditative, and contemplative. One can hardly ask for more.

Engineer and sound editor Alberto Paulin recorded the music at Mediapole Saint-Cesaire, Impasse de Mourgues, Arles, France in October 1976. The recording has been in the catalogue continuously since then, the current issue released in 2021.

Allow to voice an opinion: The commercial home-stereo age began in about 1954 and matured over the next fifteen or twenty years, reaching a peak of sophistication in the 1970’s. Then came the digital age in the 80’s, and recording engineers had to recalibrate and develop new techniques to best exploit the emerging medium. For me, that meant that the 1970’s were a kind of golden age of analogue stereo recording, and this recording comes right in the middle of that era.

There’s a genuine sense of air and transparency around each of the instruments and an actual sense of depth to the sonic image. A moderate hall reverberation lends a note of realism to the affair, along with a deep bass response; clean, extended highs; and general feeling of naturalness. To top it off, there’s a wide dynamic range and fairly strong impact. The whole recording is quite lifelike and likable.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, February 20, 2021

Four Seasons of New York

Here it is, Doug Balliett's wonderful “Winter” from his double bass concerto Four Seasons of New York, commissioned by Experiential Orchestra (EXO) and performed by the superb Rob Nairn, recorded at Oktaven Studios.

The piece takes Brad Balliett's poetry as part of its inspiration; this poetry is shown and spoken by our Winter bard himself the beginning of the video. All of the many images are from friends and fans, and feature the city we love so much – in all of its glory and more.

Listen and watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy9E1q66FAA&feature=youtu.be

The amazing performers on this recording are Rob Nairn, double bass soloist; Francis Liu, violin; Elizabeth Derham, violin; Edwin Kaplan, viola; Serafim Smiguelsky, cello; Stuart Breczinski, oboe; David Byrd-Marrow, horn; Brad Balliett, bassoon; and James Blachly, conductor.

Recorded at Oktaven Studios, Ryan Streber, producer.

We hope this finds you warm and well.

For more about EXO, visit https://experientialorchestra.com/

--James Blachly, Experiential Orchestra

Jeunesses Musicales Canada Continues Its Digital Shift
Eager to continue its mission of bringing music to young audiences and to find new ways to reach them, JM Canada launched this fall their Digital Ballads, aimed at children and their teachers. A necessary transition and a great challenge, as the performing arts have been at a standstill for several months now.

Alongside passionate artists, the JM Canada team succeeded in this tour de force by adapting for the screen 4 concerts and 3 complementary workshops in record time. Fun, educational and entertaining, this 100% digital program has already attracted more than 17,500 students aged 4 to 12 in 12 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories, in addition to being offered to clients of Place des Arts in Montreal, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Palais Montcalm in Quebec City.

Carried away by this great success, JM Canada is experiencing a threefold achievement: providing teachers with content-rich tools to vary their teaching activities, exporting itself from coast to coast to coast in just a few months thanks to this digital offering, and, ultimately, providing work and support to several artists, artisans and musicians.

Through several themes, including percussion, opera or song writing, children explore many aspects of music alongside enthusiastic artists and our two musical mediators Aurélie Négrier and Gabriela Iznardo. JM Canada also offers the possibility of live virtual mediation sessions to complement the pre-recorded concerts and workshops.

The Digital Ballads 2020-2021 season offers a real alternative to the activities usually offered, and JM Canada brilliantly continues its mission by accompanying teachers in the musical pedagogical monitoring of their students.

For complete details, visit https://www.jmcanada.ca/en/promoters/digital-ballads/

--France Gaignard

Pianist Min Kwon Announces “America/Beautiful”
Korean-born American pianist Min Kwon announced today “America/Beautiful,” a new project in which more than 70 composers have written individual variations for solo piano on the theme of “America the Beautiful.” Each interpretation offers a different vision of America during this critical moment, as filtered through the lens of America’s leading compositional voices across a broad spectrum of age, race, gender, and personal experience.

The works will be premiered over the course of six days, beginning July 4, with a series of free streamed video performances by Kwon followed by Q&A sessions with the composers, culminating in two evenings of live performances by Kwon in the Catacombs of The Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY on July 8 and 9.

For more information, visit https://www.america-beautiful.com/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Music, Math, and Mind: The Physics and Neuroscience of Music
Columbia University Press announces Music, Math and Mind: The Physics and Neuroscience of Music by David Sulzer.

Written for musicians & music lovers with any level of science and math proficiency, including none, this book demystifies how music works while testifying to its beauty and wonder. David Sulzer is Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry, and Pharmacology at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (and composer Dave Soldier by night). Publication date: April 27, 2021.

David Sulzer's debut book, Music, Math, and Mind, offers a lively exploration of the mathematics, physics, and neuroscience that underlie music in a way that readers without scientific background can follow.

Dr. Sulzer, also known in the musical world as Dave Soldier, explains why the perception of music encompasses the physics of sound, the functions of the ear and deep-brain auditory pathways, and the physiology of emotion.

For more information, visit https://cup.columbia.edu/book/music-math-and-mind/9780231193795

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Joshua Bell on Vanguard Concerts
The Violin Channel’s Vanguard Concerts series’ initial episode, premiered February 11, received over 600K views in less than a week across Facebook, YouTube and Instagram in more than 50 countries. The kickoff showcase featured all artists on the series - Joshua Bell with pianist Alessio Bax; the Dover Quartet; Junction Trio, violinist Philippe Quint with pianist Jun Cho; violinists Nathan Meltzer and Kevin Zhu with pianist Rohan de Silva; violist Jordan Bak; violinist Charles Yang with pianist Peter Dugan; violinist Tessa Lark with pianist Amy Yang and guitarist Frank Vignola; cellist Sophia Bacelar with pianist Noreen Cassidy-Polera and dancer Jamaii Melvin.

On Thursday, February 18th at 5pm ET, longtime collaborators violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Alessio Bax presented a recital of Bach, Schubert, and Weiniawski, in an hour-long program featuring Creative Director David Katzive’s customized LED Wall imagery and an interview with the artists where they share their experiences during the COVID pandemic.

For complete information, visit https://theviolinchannel.com/vc-live-the-violin-channel-vanguard-concert-series/

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of February 22–28)
Thursday, February 25 at 6:30 p.m. MT;
Jennifer Koh’s “Alone Together” in recital for Aspen Music Festival and School.
https://www.aspenmusicfestival.com/virtual-stage/
and https://www.facebook.com/aspenmusic/?ref=bookmarks

Sunday, February 28 at 3:00 p.m. PT:
Wu Man rings in Chinese New Year with New West Symphony.
https://newwestsymphony.org/2020-21-virtual-season/tour-of-china/

In Case You Missed It:
Minnesota Orchestra presents Musical Menagerie, a young people's concert in partnership with the Minnesota Zoo.
https://mnorch.vhx.tv/young-people-s-content/videos/musical-menagerie

--Shuman Associates

Orchestra of St. Luke’s Presents Two World Premieres by Anna Clyne
On Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 6:30pm ET, Orchestra of St. Luke’s presents “Sounds & Stories: Anna Clyne and Jyll Bradley,” a live streamed performance that features two world premieres by composer Anna Clyne – “Strange Loops” for Clarinet Quintet and “Woman Holding a Balance” for String Quartet with a film by artists Jyll Bradley and David Ward. The program, curated by Clyne and narrated by Bradley and Clyne, also includes selections from J.S. Bach’s Three Part Inventions and Art of the Fugue and Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint.

Clyne’s 17 minute “Strange Loops for Clarinet Quintet” is based on a concept developed by cognitive science scholar Douglas Hofstadter in his book I am a Strange Loop, where he explores his own sense of “I.” Hofstadter writes, “In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference.” In “Strange Loops,” Clyne explores musical loops – motifs and gestures that repeat, morph, modulate, and recapitulate in various guises. At the heart of this piece is a sense of playfulness and yearning – inspired by the creative process in isolation.

The world premiere of artist Jyll Bradley’s seven-minute film, “Woman Holding a Balance,” features new music for string quartet composed by Clyne. The film centers upon a performance work artist David Ward made in response to Bradley’s sculpture Dutch/Light. Ward revisited his first love as a young art student – the paintings of Dutch artist Joannes Vermeer (1632-1675), who is well known for his use of light as a framing device for ideas around time, human interiority, and space. In the film, shot over one sun-filled day, Ward loops in and out of the sculpture performing gestures from the subjects of Vermeer's paintings. This film brings together three artists from different generations and times whose work shares the languages of light and space.

Program Information:
Sounds & Stories: Anna Clyne and Jyll Bradley (Livestream)
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 6:30pm ET
Tickets: Pay what you can from $1-$100 ($40 suggested price)
Link: https://oslmusic.org/event/sounds-stories-anna-clyne-and-jyll-bradley/

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

American Lyric Theater Offers Free Virtual Opera Writers Symposium
American Lyric Theater (ALT) is inviting artists from all backgrounds to participate in its free, virtual Opera Writers Symposium as part of the organization’s ongoing commitment to mentoring the next generation of operatic writers. The eight-week series of mini-seminars and online workshops will run from February 27 – April 24, 2021 and will provide practical tools for both first-time and experienced artists with an interest in developing new works for the operatic stage. The courses will offer artists a glimpse into American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program (CLDP) – the country’s only full-time mentorship program for emerging opera composers, librettists and dramaturgs – a two-year, tuition-free professional training program for writers interested in creating new operas that includes extensive mentorship and direct financial support.

The CLDP Opera Writers Symposium is free and open to artists from all genres of music and literature including poets, playwrights, novelists, composers, songwriters and rap artists who may be curious about writing for the operatic stage. Artists with no previous experience in the operatic art form are encouraged to attend.

Details here: https://www.altnyc.org/cldp-opera-writers-symposium

--Rebecca Davis PR

Update from Festival Mozaic
I know many of you look forward to the announcement of our summer season around this time of the year. We are excited to announce that Festival Mozaic will take place this year, and we’ll share the details with you in early April. This delay will allow us to see how public health policy progresses in the coming months and plan our events accordingly.

Our plan for the 2021 Summer Festival includes:
A shorter 8-day festival, July 24 – 31
A smaller number of your favorite musicians working together under strict health and safety protocols
Indoor and outdoor venues that will ensure your health and safety
Concerts performed live, twice per day, if permitted
Concerts attended by smaller, socially-distanced, masked audiences
Concerts will be live-streamed online, so you can enjoy them at home

This summer festival will be nimble, flexible, and even portable so that it will occur regardless of where we stand in terms of infection rates, immunization, and health and safety requirements. Our Music Director, Scott Yoo, our outstanding Board of Directors, our remarkable musicians, and our dedicated staff and volunteers all are committed to making wonderful music for you this summer.

For more information, visit https://www.festivalmozaic.org/

--Lloyd Tanner, Executive Director

Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in Recital
What: Spivey Hall Presents celebrated Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a streaming recital of music by Beethoven, Grieg, and Dvorák captured at Norway’s Troldhaugen concert hall, the home of Nina and Edvard Grieg. The concert honors Spivey Hall’s 30th season and is presented in partnership with OurConcerts.live.

When: Sunday, February 21, 3pm ET, video-on-demand available February 22 through 24.

Price: Tickets for the initial stream are $15 plus $3.50 access fee and local sales tax when purchased from spiveyhall.org by February 17 at 5pm, and include video-on-demand. From February 18 to 24, tickets may be purchased solely from OurConcerts.live and are $20 plus $3.50 access fee.

Where: https://spiveyhall.org/events/event/leif-ove-andsnes-piano

--Allison Van Etten, Ravenscroft PR

Michael Tilson Thomas on Talking Beats
Michael Tilson Thomas is the latest guest on the podcast Talking Beats with Daniel Lelchuk, which has released an hour-long, wide-ranging discussion between MTT and cellist and host Daniel Lelchuk via TalkingBeats.com and major streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and YouTube.

This conversation offers a wealth of insight into MTT’s musical thinking, his personality, and the many fascinating experiences that have shaped him. This discussion was recorded on December 3, 2020, and was released Tuesday, February 16, 2021, as the podcast’s 81st episode.

To learn more about Talking Beats with Daniel Lelchuk, visit https://www.talkingbeats.com/

--Shuman Associates

Bang on a Can Announces Upcoming Virtual Performances
Bang on a Can announces a dynamic slate of new virtual programming taking place from March through May 2021, all streaming at live.bangonacan.org. All shows are free to watch, but viewers are encouraged to consider purchasing a ticket to help support the performers and commissioned composers. March performances include:

First Fridays with Robert Black on March 5, 2021 at 12pm ET, a monthly performance series launched in October 2020, which continues with music for solo bass by James Tenney, Stuart Saunders, and Rifat Komachkov; the live-from-Berlin viewing of Berlin-based dance company Sasha Waltz & Guests’ performance to In C on March 6, 2021 at 2pm ET, based on Terry Riley’s ground-breaking score and featuring Bang on a Can’s critically acclaimed recording; Bang on a Can Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director Michael Gordon and Bang on a Can All-Star pianist Vicky Chow host a watch party on March 7, 2021 3pm ET for the video premiere of Sonatra, a fiendishly and infamously difficult piano work by Gordon, with a Q&A moderated by pianist/music critic Ethan Iverson; and a special edition Bang on a Can Marathon Live Online as part of MaerzMusik, presented by the Berliner Festspiele and featuring live performances from both sides of the Atlantic, on March 21, 2021 from 3-7pm ET.

April and May performances include First Fridays with Robert Black on April 2 and May 7; another Bang on a Can Marathon live online, featuring all commissions and all world premieres on April 18; the next virtual OneBeat Marathon on May 2; and Steve Reich and Amy Sillman in a co-presentation with The Jewish Museum and BOMB Magazine on May 13.

Details here: https://live.bangonacan.org/

--Maggie Stapleton, Jensen Artists

La Calisto: A Virtual Opera
The students who signed up to participate in the Department of Music’s Fall 2020 Opera Performance course expected to perform a staged version of La Calisto, Francesco Cavalli’s 17th-century opera, in Richardson Auditorium at the end of the term. The arrival of the pandemic quickly necessitated a change in plans as students returned home for a semester of virtual learning. The result: the creation of a virtual opera, recorded with phone cameras from students’ homes scattered across the world, in a production conducted by Performance Program Director Michael Pratt, directed by Christopher Mattaliano (Portland Opera, Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera), edited by videographer Christopher McDonald, and with dramaturgy by Department Chair Wendy Heller.

La Calisto will premiere on Saturday, March 6, 2021 as a three-episode series on the Department of Music’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE03_6jE29C_5d61Lwm51WA

For a full announcement, please visit this page: https://music.princeton.edu/news/students-participate-creation-virtual-opera

--Dasha Koltunyuk, Princeton University Concerts

News from PARMA Recordings
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Astor Piazzolla’s birth, PARMA has teamed up with Fundación Astor Piazzolla and the composer’s family, including his widow, Laura, and grandson, Daniel, to present the first annual Piazzolla Music Competition. Proceeds from this year’s contest will benefit music education charities.

Headed by Grammy-winning musician Gary Burton, the competition’s aim is to find and elevate top undiscovered talent through performances of Piazzolla’s work. The Grammy-packed jury is led by pianist and composer Pablo Ziegler and includes bandoneonist Héctor del Curto and bandoneonist/composer Daniel Binelli.

Where does PARMA fit into all of this? The grand prize winner of the competition will be awarded an album release on our Navona Records label and a subsequent concert tour in China facilitated by PARMA.

For details, visit https://www.parmarecordings.com/piazzolla-music-competition/

--Patrick Niland, PARMA Recordings

The Atterbury Sessions Continue
The Atterbury House Sessions free livestreams continue on February 20th and 27th with the Ulysses Quartet and Xavier Foley. All concerts are live at 5 PM from the gorgeous mahogany Atterbury Hall and available for a week.

Saturday Feb. 20: Ulysses Quartet
Saturday Feb. 27: Bassist Xavier Foley

Upcoming Performances (All Performances at 5:00 pm EST)
February 20 – Ulysses Quartet
February 27 – Xavier Foley, bass
March 13 – PUBLIQuartet
April 3 – The Westerlies
April 17 – Imani Winds
April 24 – Baroque Violinist Aisslinn Nosky and Friends
May 8 – Brentano Quartet
May 15 – Augustin Hadelich, violin
June 5 – Lara St. John, violin

Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Ancalagon33?gl=SG&hl=en-GB

--Lara St. John

A Roundup of Recent Releases (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Aspects of America: Pulitzer Edition. Walter Piston: Symphony No. 7; Morton Gould: Stringmusic; Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 4 “Requiem.” Carlos Kalmar: Oregon Symphony. Pentatone PTC 5186 763.

When classical music fans think of top orchestras and conductors, neither the Oregon Symphony nor Carlos Kalmar are likely to spring immediately to mind, but they have made some outstanding recordings for the Pentatone label, including two absolutely marvelous SACDs that have established permanent residence on my shelves, This England and Music for a Time of War. Although I was mildly disappointed to see that this latest release was not released in the usual Pentatone SACD format, but rather as a CD only, I understand that budgetary pressures are bearing down hard on the recording industry, and I am grateful that we have this recording at all. Times are tough out there.

The title of this release stems from the fact that this is an album of Pulitzer Prize-winning compositions by American composers. The program opens with Symphony No. 7 by Walter Piston (1894-1976), a three-movement work that was completed in 1960 and awarded the Pulitzer in 1961. The first movement is bold and dramatic, well-captured by the Pentatone engineering team in dynamic sound. The second movement is more lyrical, very moving, and the finale brings on renewed energy. I was not familiar with this work before, but am certainly pleased to have made its acquaintance through this excellent recording. The second piece is by Morton Gould (1913-1996). His five-movement Stringmusic was completed in 1993 and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1995. Gould composed the work for the legendary Russian cellist and conductor Mstsislav Rostropovich. It is lyrical and lively, but because it is for strings only, it can seem a bit of a sonic letdown after the boldness of the Piston. Still, it is an involving work in its own right, even if it seems a bit out of place when sandwiched between two colorful symphonies. The final work on the program is the one that most listeners are more likely to be familiar with, as the symphonies of Howard Hanson (1896-1981) have been recorded several times. His Symphony No. 4 was completed in 1943 and awarded the Pulitzer in 1944. It has an intensity about it that is quite involving, its four movements being titled Kyrie, Requiescat, Dies Irae, and Lux Aeterna, after the Catholic Mass for the Dead. However, this is not music that sounds religious in any formal sense. Like most of Hanson’s work, much of it sounds something like film music. Good film music. Colorful, listenable, dramatic, and entertaining.

All three of the works presented on this fine Pentatone release are a bit out of the mainstream but all are well worth an audition, especially when presented in such excellent sound quality as they are here. Times are indeed tough out there right now, but thank goodness for music to help sustain our minds and spirits.

Sigfúsdóttir: Kom vinur. Horous Askelsson, Schola Cantorum. Sono Luminus SLE-70019.
 
I feel impelled at the outset to point out that this is an EP containing less than 10 minutes of music, but what beautiful music it is! Icelandic composer Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir (b. 1980) writes of the two compositions on this recording that they are “composed to poems by the Icelandic poet Vilborg Dagbjartsdóttir. The poems are the absolute core of the pieces; when composing them, I felt like excavating music from the text, unravelling hidden sounds from the words. Kom vinur has a somber undertone, a sense of loneliness and longing for sharing light and thoughts with a friend in the dark winter night. In Maríuljóô the tender view is through the eyes of a child observing subtle changes in nature and the seasons as well as asking the mother questions about the image of the Holy Mother.”

I don’t have access at the moment to the poems, but the choral music on this EP is so beautiful and moving that I feel inspired to see whether I can find the poems somewhere on the interweb. Meanwhile, I know that Sigfúsdóttir has composed other music; the 10 transcendent minutes contained on this brief gem have been more than enough to make me seek out more. This is a wonderful release, brief (but inexpensive) as it might be.

No Time for Chamber Music: Collectif9.

I can’t quite remember exactly where I first heard of this release, although I believe it was a mention on Twitter. Chamber arrangements of music by Gustav Mahler sounded interesting, so I streamed (at mp3 quality, alas; I live in a rural area and do not have wideband internet access) a few cuts and was quite taken with what I heard. I subsequently ordered a physical copy from the group’s website (collectif9.ca). The musicians of Collectif9 include John Corban, Yubin Kim, Robert Margaryan, and Elizabeth Skinner, violins; Xavier Lepage-Brault, Jennifer Thiessen, violas; Jeremie Cloutier, Andrea Stewart, cellos; and Thibault Bertin-Maghit, double bass, who also did the arranging on seven of the eight selections. I should note that there are recordings out there of various Mahler symphonies arranged for small forces, chamber orchestras and in some cases even smaller ensembles, but this recording is not just scaled-down versions of movements from Mahler symphonies. The music herein is clearly based on Mahler’s scores, but it really does sound like chamber music, not scaled-down symphonic movements.    
 
The liner notes explain the unusual album title and concept thusly: “‘No time for chamber music… you are nothing but an academic exercise’; these are two lines taken from the 3rd movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia, built on the scherzo of Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphony… The composers on this recording use quotations to create depth in storytelling… Gustav Mahler quoted his own works with intent and delicacy, with layers and layers of intricate detail and deeper meaning… Creating these arrangements allowed us to see the breadth of colors he was imagining and generated the space to find this diversity ourselves. While we might have the impression that Gustav Mahler, with his symphonies and Lieder, had no time for chamber music, this was not at all the case. Reflecting our daily life, our interactions, and our intimacies, chamber music is human communication itself.”

The eight selections on this CD include two taken from Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, two from Symphony No.2, and one each from Songs of a Wayfarer and The Song of the Earth. The final selection, by composer Philippe Hersant, is a fantasy based on musical themes by Mahler. This is a truly stimulating collection that really digs into the heart of Mahler’s inspirations. If you are a fan of Mahler, you really ought to hear it; however, you need not be a Mahler fan to enjoy some truly fascinating chamber music. Assuming you have the time, of course…

La traversée: Matthieu Bordenave, tenor saxophone; Patrice Moret, double bass; Florian Weber, piano. ECM 2683 088 2928.

The ECM label has long featured music that has often been referred to as “chamber jazz,” a term that depending on the source has served over the years both as criticism or compliment. On Latraversée (“The Crossing”) the trio led by saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave plays music that truly does sound like a blend of chamber music and jazz, with the absence of drums contributing to the chamber-music ambience. The music is partly composed, partly improvised. Bordenave explains that as they planned for the recording, he and pianist Florian Weber “I talked a lot about how to incorporate some of the colours of modern composition. I love for instance Messiaen and Dutilleux. I wanted some of that sense of complexity in the chords. Too much complexity, however, can create a prison for improvisers. In some of the pieces, like ‘Archipel’, we take just a small fragment of written material and develop it further and further...” Bordenave also notes that the nine tracks on the album are based on poetry by the French writer René Char, explaining that “the melodies were responses to some of the poems, or impressions drawn from them.”

The sound produced by the trio is spare and haunting, recorded in typical ECM style with both clarity and ambience. This is music born out of reflection that invites further reflection on the part of the listener. Even if you are not really all that much of a jazz fan, unless you are someone who is pathologically opposed to the sound of a saxophone you might well find this to be a fascinating take on the idea of chamber music.

Lontano: Anja Lechner, cello; François Couturier, piano. ECM 2682 085 7705.

Although a good portion of the music on Lontano is improvised, this is clearly not jazz; no, not even ECM-style “chamber jazz.” Rather, Lechner and Couturier have produced an enchanting program of honest-to-goodness chamber music that features their own compositions and improvisations along with music by Ariel Ramirez, Giya Kancheli, Anouar Brahem, and Henri Dutilleux. This is music that sings, that soars, that exults in the sheer joy of music-making. In his liner notes, music author Stephane Ollivier writes that “since the start of their duo collaboration in the early 2000s as members of the Tarkovsky Quartet, German cellist Anja Lechner and French pianist François Couturier have been inventing a music that is genuinely impossible to pin down. Though in some senses continuing the European chamber music tradition in its forms and instrumental colours, it is nevertheless distinct from it in its variety of repertoire and in its approach, which knowingly, virtuosically blurs the demarcation line between notated and improvised music.” To hear these players make music is to hear imagination at work and dedication at play. I love this description by Lechner: “With François I have often set off on journeys to foreign melodies. This requires mutual trust, courage and imagination. Together we search as if through various countries, exploring, shaping, struggling, rejecting, and finding new forms to finally sing the song. Then we grow wings and feel the stories that want to be told – only on this moment, in this room, for this person who will listen.” Having had the good fortune to be that person who listened, I invite others to join me in enjoying this remarkable recording.

Järvlepp: Concerto 2000 and Other Works. Pascale Margely, flute; Ivan Josip Skender, Zagreb Festival Orchestra; Petr Vronsky, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records NV6291.

Canadian composer Jan Järvlepp (b. 1953) has assembled an album of entertaining orchestral music containing plenty of rhythmic energy and variety. For example, the opening work in this collection, Concerto 2000 for flute and orchestra, consists of three movements: a lively opening movement that features flamenco rhythms complete with handclapping, a more serene second movement with an Arabic-sounding interlude, and a third movement punctuated with percussion shots and vocal shouts, a movement that Järvlepp explains was influenced by Finnish folk music.  The next piece, titled Pierrot Solaire, is a lively romp that jumps and whirls and whooshes in a mad rush of frantic energy. It is music you can imagine dancing to, but only if you had superhuman energy. Better to listen, tap your feet, and maybe wave your arms about. Brass Dance features not just brass, but plenty of percussion, strings, and some occasionally off-kilter rhythms that contribute to the madcap delight of the music, which is even kicked up a notch in the next cut, Street Music, with brass and percussion blasting out the rhythm. The mood changes significantly with the next composition, In Memoriam, which Järvlepp composed for string orchestra in memory of his deceased brother. It is a tender, moving piece of simple but heartfelt beauty. The album ends with Camerata Music, a lively romp that brings back the prominent percussion – complete with some handclapping.

Other than the solo flute being a bit overpowering in Concerto 2000, the sound quality is just fine. All in all, this is an entertaining album that should appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.

Some Food for Thought: “Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo did not know where their amazement began… Something similar happened with the cylinder phonographs that the merry matrons from France brought with them as a substitute for the antiquated hand organs and that for a time had serious effects on the livelihood of the band of musicians. At first curiosity increased the clientele on the forbidden street and there was even word of respectable ladies who disguised themselves as workers to observe the novelty of the phonograph from first hand, but from so much and such close observation they soon reached the conclusion that it was not an enchanted mill as everyone had thought and as the matrons had said, but a mechanical trick that could not be compared with something so moving, so human, and so full of everyday truth as a band of musicians. It was such a serious disappointment that when phonographs became so popular that there was one in every house they were not considered objects for amusement for adults but as something good for children to take apart.” (from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez).

KWN

Who's Conducting Which Orchestra - Updated

Who's conducting which orchestra? you asked. Somebody asked. I asked. When I began this project some years ago I had no idea what a task it would be. Anyway, it's been about a year since I last updated it, so you'll find there are a lot of changes. Find the article here: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2010/04/whos-conducting-which-orchestra.html

--JJP

Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (SACD review)

Vladimir Jurowski, Sveshnikov Boys Choir of the Moscow Choral School and the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov.” Pentatone PTC 5186 761.

By John J. Puccio

Let me just guess here, but even though Tchaikovsky is popular for his symphonies, his violin and piano concertos, and his 1812 and Romeo and Juliet overtures, he’s also done pretty well by his three big ballets, especially The Nutcracker (complete or in suites), which we have here in its complete form. Of course, The Nutcracker gets more love during the Christmas season, but, really, it’s welcome music anytime.

So, what could be better than hearing the music of a Russian composer played by a Russian-born conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, and a Russian orchestra, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov,” also known as the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Russian Federation or the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, and formerly known as the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra officially acquired the “Evgeny Svetlanov” designation in 2005 for the name of its longest-tenured conductor, Evgeny Svetlanov.

Anyway, back to the question: What could be better? Well, in my experience more than a few other conductors and orchestras have done better. Let me explain. Probably more than any of Tchaikovsky’s other orchestral works, The Nutcracker is highly episodic, almost a series of brief, highly colorful tone poems. Accordingly, any interpretation of the music should be colorful, dramatic, energetic, poignant, as the case may be. Maestro Jurowski, for my money, is not quite in the same league when it comes to color and nuance as several other conductors I favor; namely, Antal Dorati and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips/Decca); Antal Dorati and the London Symphony (Mercury); Andre Previn and the London Symphony (EMI/Warner Classic); Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Royal Philharmonic (Decca); Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony (Decca); Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI/Warner Classic); Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra; and several others.

Why doesn’t this recording quite measure up to some of my favorites? Let’s look first at the background of the story. As you probably know, Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) adapted his two-act ballet from E.T.A. Hoffman's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," Tchaikovsky premiering the ballet in 1892. But he didn't like it. Indeed, friends said he loathed it, especially compared to his previous ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. It's ironic, then, that in our own time, The Nutcracker has become possibly Tchaikovsky's most-beloved, work. Certainly, it's got a little something in it to delight everyone. Yet it’s that “delight” that Jurowski seems often to miss.

The Russian orchestra plays splendidly. In fact, they are so precisely disciplined, they have practically no character of their own. So in music that requires a wide range of characterful scenes, the almost antiseptic orchestral temperament doesn’t help matters. What this means is that while Jurowski does nothing extraordinarily wrong, neither he nor his orchestra does anything extraordinarily imaginative, either. This leaves us with a very prim and proper presentation that neither offends nor impresses. We can and should admire the orchestra’s immaculate musical execution while not exactly enjoying what they’re presenting.

I’m afraid not even the famous battle scene with the mice comes off as anything but routine. Of course, Tchaikovsky ensured that even “routine” could be plenty exciting, so maybe that is enough; certainly, “The Waltz of the Snowflakes” does seem light and dainty enough. Still, the enchanting dance sequences--Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian, and Reed Pipes--fail to kindle the same delight as other conductors have produced.

Which leaves us with the two big closing numbers: “The Waltz of the Flowers” and the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy.” Yet they, too, seemed rather routine to me. They’re still beautiful, mind you. Just...ordinary. They lack the sumptuousness I expected to hear, the brilliance, the glitter. In the last analysis, there is little or no color to them.

In short, Jurowski’s Nutcracker comes off as a good run-through of the score, almost a rehearsal production. There is little one can point to that is seriously amiss with it; it just lacks a certain sparkle, a certain dash, a certain charm. It’s kind of ho-hum, if you know what I mean, at least in comparison with the conductors I mentioned earlier.

Producers Renaud Laranger and Erdo Goot and engineer Lauran Jurrius recorded the music live at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory Main Hall, Russia in January 2019. They recorded it for SACD two-channel and multichannel playback via an SACD player and for CD two-channel playback via a regular CD player. As usual, I listened in two-channel SACD using a Sony SACD player.

The first thing I noticed about the sound was the very low output level. Usually, engineers do this to accommodate a wide dynamic range. But in this case, the dynamics, while wide in both the CD and SACD mode, are not wide enough to warrant such a very low volume. So you might want to turn things up a bit at the beginning. Next, you may wonder at the playing time. Pentatone managed to get the entire ballet onto a single disc, with a playing time of a little over 86 minutes that well exceeds what is supposed to be the 75-minute limit of a standard CD. I tried the disc on several different players, two of them playing the regular CD layer and the Sony SACD unit playing the SACD layer. They all managed to play the 86-minute disc successfully, but I still wouldn’t discount the possibility that some players might not be up to the job.

For a live recording, and beyond the fact that you have to turn up the volume a little more than usual, it sounds good in SACD stereo (and in regular CD from what little I heard). The highs are noteworthy--clear, natural, and extended. As to the rest, there is isn’t a lot of depth or air to the orchestral sound. Nor does the dynamic range seem particularly expansive, but it works and sounds fine. I doubt that anyone will find the sound lacking in anything except volume.

JJP

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

Classical Music News of the Week, February 13, 2021

Robert Spano Appointed Music Director of Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Dr. Keith Cerny and Board Chair Mercedes T. Bass announced the appointment of conductor Robert Spano as the orchestra’s next Music Director. His initial three-year term will begin with the 2022–23 season. Having worked with the orchestra as Principal Guest Conductor since 2019, Robert Spano will become Music Director Designate on April 1, 2021, and will serve in this capacity until assuming the title of Music Director on August 1, 2022.

Robert Spano will be the tenth Music Director in the history of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, which was founded in 1912. In addition to conducting six out of the orchestra’s ten symphonic programs per season, he will be responsible for overseeing the orchestra and music staff; working closely with Dr. Cerny to shape the artistic direction of the orchestra and drive its continued growth; and serving as an ambassador for the orchestra and classical music in the Fort Worth community.

For more information, visit https://www.robertspanomusic.com/

--Shuman Associates News

"Bach with a View" International Young Artists Festival and Competition - March 5-7
Now open to both piano and string instruments (violin, viola, cello, bass) in separate divisions: At this time, the Competition and Festival will be virtual only.

Our Livestream Partner and Sponsor: IN.LIVE. Additional Sponsors: Performer's Music, Adiana Strings.

Application form and payment link follow. Regular deadline has been extended to February 15. Late deadline of Febrruary 25 requires $20 late fee.

For complete information, visit https://sheridanmusicstudio.com/young-artists-festival

--Sheridan Music Studio

ACO Appoints Melissa Ngan as President and CEO Effective February 16
American Composers Orchestra (ACO), praised for its “robust and diverse commissioning program” by The New York Times, announced today that its Board of Directors has appointed Melissa Ngan as President and Chief Executive Officer, effective February 16, 2021.

“Melissa’s depth and breadth of experience are a tremendous asset to ACO and its various stakeholders,” stated Sameera Troesch, Chair of ACO’s Board. “She has worked with large orchestras and small ensembles alike to achieve world-class performances, cultivate new audiences and communities, and design an ecosystem that efficiently meets the needs of talented composers, regardless of race, sex, gender, socio-economic or any other status. Troesch continued, “Melissa’s most compelling strengths go well beyond her impressive background and experience. She is an empathetic, inspiring and inclusive leader with a track record of delivering outcomes in challenging times. We are delighted to welcome Melissa, and look forward to supporting her leadership and the ACO team.”

For more information, visit https://americancomposers.org/

--Christina Jensen, Jensen Artists

Los Angeles Master Chorale Receives NEA Grant
The Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by Grant Gershon, Kiki & David Gindler Artistic Director, has been approved for a $50,000 Grants for Arts Projects award to support the continued production of virtual content, including the upcoming premiere of composer Meredith Monk’s “Earth Seen from Above” from her opera Atlas, and the world premiere of composer Derrick Spiva, Jr’s “Ready, Bright,” a Los Angeles Master Chorale commission.

Both videos will be presented at the Master Chorale’s upcoming virtual gala on May 16, 2021, along with Reena Esmail’s “TaReKiTa,” as part of a triptych titled Shine Bright. The entire program will engage all 100 Master Chorale singers.

For more information about the Los Angeles Master Chorale, visit https://lamasterchorale.org/los-angeles-master-chorale.php

--Lisa Bellamore, Crescent Communications

Join Eleonor Sandresky and Jack van Zandt for the “Snow Moon” on Feb 27
February 27th is the last full moon of Winter! Join my special guest, Jack van Zandt, and me at 9PM ET for some dreamtime in the last days of winter. I’ll be premiering a set of nocturnes for piano by Jack called, “Painted Night,” inspired by paintings of Hopper, Whistler, and Van Gogh. I’m loving how truly painterly these pieces feel, even with all the work they require - so worth it!

The program will include an arrangement of "Knee 4" from “Einstein on the Beach” that Philip made in the 1990s and a new “Strange Energy, Ice.” That’s two world premieres!

This month the cocktail/mocktail will be the Snowdrift, a frosty white drink that's perfect with a spicy snack. The recipe and snack come with your ticket. Get cozy and join us for an hour of music and conversation.

Tickets are available through my website, Eventbrite for single tickets, and Patreon for subscriptions. And as always, if you can't make it at that time, the stream will be up for 48 hours. We hope to see you for some evocative music on the 27th.

For more information and tickets, visit https://www.esandresky.com/schedule/lunar-landscapes-snow-moon

--Eleonor Sandresky

ROCO’s March Concerts Include a Diverse Program
River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) will continue their 16th season, “Color & Light,” in March with the conclusions of their Unchambered and Connections series.

ROCO’s first concert in March, “Blackbird,” will be streamed live from The Alta Arts on March 6, and will feature a performance from ROCO’s Brass Quintet. The performance will close out ROCO’s Unchambered series with a selection of contemporary works, ranging from Joan Tower’s “Copperwave” and Jonathan Bailey Howard’s “Introit,” to Robert Dennis’s "Blackbird Variations," a work based on the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens, and an arrangement of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” by Seb Skelly.

For the full lineupof ROCO March concerts, visit https://roco.org/

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Powerful New Songs by Margaret Atwood and Jake Heggie
On the morning of September 22, 2015, in Renfrew County, Ontario, a single man went on a killing spree, brutally murdering three ex-partners in their separate homes. They were victims in a crime now recognized as one of the worst cases of domestic violence in Canadian history. The murders devastated the rural Ottawa Valley community where baritone Joshua Hopkins grew up – his sister, Nathalie Warmerdam, was one of these women.

Hopkins has since set out on a journey to use his voice to wake people up to the global epidemic of gender-based violence--and their part in it. His call to action was answered by two exceptional creators. Jake Heggie, hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “the world’s most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer,” agreed to write the music, and Margaret Atwood, the Booker Prize-winning author of more than 50 books of fiction and poetry, including The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote the searing words.

The powerful new song cycle by Margaret Atwood and Jake Heggie is called Songs for Murdered Sisters premieres on film February 19: https://songsformurderedsisters.com/

--Beth Stewart, Verismo Communications

Baritone Jonathon Adams Joins Schwalbe Roster
Born in amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton, Canada), Jonathon Adams is a Two-Spirit, nêhiyaw michif (Cree-Métis) baritone. In concert, they have appeared as a soloist with Philippe Herreweghe, Sigiswald Kuijken, Hans-Christoph Rademann, Helmut Rilling, Václav Luks, Ensemble BachPlus, Vox Luminis, il Gardellino, and B’Rock Orchestra at Opera-Ballet Flanders.

Future solo engagements include concerts with il Gardellino, Les Voix Humaines, Pro Coro Canada, Studio de Musique Ancient de Montréal, L’Harmonie des Saisons, and a world premiere of Adams’ performance piece nipahimiw / the plaint with Susie Napper and Catalina Vicens at the Art Gallery of Ontario (June 2021).

--Schwalbe & Partners

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of February 15–21)
Wednesday, February 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET (available through June 2021):
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presents Recovered Voices program, curated and hosted by BSO Artistic Advisor James Conlon.
https://www.offstage.bsomusic.org/en/episode-15-feb-17

Friday, February 19 at 7:00 p.m. ET (available for 30 days):
The Gilmore’s annual KeysFest commences with solo recital by Edward Callahan.
https://www.thegilmore.org/event/edward-callahan-in-concert/

Sunday, February 21 at 1:00 p.m. ET (fourth performance on program):
Lara Downes premieres new work by Eve Belgarian as part of “Bang on a Can Live Online.”
https://live.bangonacan.org/february2021marathon/

Sunday, February 21 at 4:00 p.m. ET (available for 30 days):
The Gilmore presents Rachel Naomi Kudo performing world premiere of Marc-André Hamelin’s Suite à l'ancienne; Zsolt Bognár joins artists in pre- and post-concert events.
https://www.thegilmore.org/event/kudo-plays-hamelin/

--Shuman Associates News

New Video: “Love Everywhere” from YPC Alumnus Blaize Adam
The Young People's Chorus of New York City would like to wish you a Happy Valentine's Day, filled with joy, love -- and music! No matter where you are in the world, what language you speak, or what you believe in, music has the power to bring us all together.

Watch the video here: https://ypc.org/virtual_platform/love-everywhere/

In a year when many of us have had to be far away from those we love, YPC alumnus Blaize Adam’s soulful single “Love Everywhere” is a beautiful anthem of connection that comes at exactly the right time. If you are looking to feel the love, watching Blaize sing, “I miss the smile underneath your mask,” and “I’m holding my heart, sending love everywhere” will wrap you in a blanket of hope and happiness.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEhxo8CtUIY&feature=youtu.be

For more information about Young People’s Chorus, visit https://ypc.org/

--Young People’s Chorus of New York City

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

Also, Francesca da Rimini. Paavo Jarvi, Tonhalle Orchester Zurich. Alpha 659.

By Bill Heck

I confess that, when it comes to performances led by Paavo Jarvi, I may be a homer. We lived for eleven years in southwestern Ohio and had season tickets for the Cincinnati Orchestra where Jarvi was the music director. I cannot comment on what the band was like before Jarvi arrived, but it was awfully good during his tenure, and his (their?) interpretations suited us well. Thus it was that Paavo Jarvi’s countenance looking out from the cover of this Alpha release grabbed my attention, and so here we are.

While Jarvi was in Cincinnati, the orchestra recorded for Telarc. Many of the recordings in that series were conducted by the late Erich Kunzel, perhaps the most famous (notorious?) of those being the 1812 Overture – you know, the one with the booming canons that gave your subwoofer a true workout. However, the orchestra did record more “serious” repertoire under Jarvi, including Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. I found that performance good but not great, but it was a long time ago – how has his approach to Tchaikovsky’s music changed since then?

A few years ago, Jarvi left Cincinnati, subsequently assuming leadership of the Tonhalle Orchestra of Zurich. (No need to feel sorry for Cincinnati: the new music director, Louis Langree, is a very able replacement, and the newly renovated Music Hall sounds fabulous.) Among other projects, the Jarvi/Tonhalle partnership in Zurich has begun a cycle of the Tchaikovsky symphonies on the Alpha label, the Fifth being the first release.

As to the conception here, let me quote from Jarvi’s own description: “When I think of the Fifth Symphony, I think of vulnerability and hope. It looks directly into our soul….Unlike the Sixth, the Fifth still holds out hope for life.” This statement seems an apt description of what one hears on this very fine recording.

Usually, our reviews start with descriptions of the music, often stepping through the movements of a work pointing out highlights or idiosyncrasies of interpretation, with recorded sound mentioned last, almost as a footnote. In this case however, it's worth talking about the sound right up front because it contributes so greatly to the overall result. The major point is that I don’t recall ever hearing a recording that provides so much insight into the intricate inner voices of the orchestra. It is a commonplace that Tchaikovsky was a master of orchestral color, and in live performances, the attentive listener usually can pick out the various parts easily. In recordings, however, too often it is difficult to hear the inner details, particularly in loud, complex passages. Here, with what I suspect is a combination of some slight rearrangement of the players as well as careful miking of the orchestra, the brass and especially the woodwinds are more audible than usual. (Rearranging orchestral forces on the stage is not so unusual as some may think. There's nothing sacred about typical arrangements.) In whatever way the effect was produced, the result is revelatory.

I should add that the general quality of the recording is excellent, with very natural and uncompressed sound. Then too, the liner notes tell us that the recording was done live, but nary a distracting cough can be heard nor is post-performance applause audible. Audiences in Zurich must be exceedingly well-behaved.

Now, on to the performance. For many listeners, the touchstone recordings of the last two Tchaikovsky symphonies are the Mravinsky/Leningrad versions. For their time in 1960, the sound is quite good, but the interpretations are what make these recordings so special. In the case of the Fifth, the performance crackles with energy and passion, roaring through the piece at a blistering 42:08 and leaving the listener drained, or maybe overwhelmed. Jarvi’s approach is not quite so overtly passionate and it certainly is slower at 47:53, but that’s hardly surprising: everyone takes it slower than Mravinsky. (For a few comparisons, Gergiev is a leisurely 51:29, Honeck moves quickly at 46:06, and Neeme Jarvi is like son, like father at 47:24.)

Tchaikovsky himself spoke of a “surrender to Fate” in connection with this work. In keeping with the Fate motif, Jarvi’s opening is quite slow and played very, very softly at first: we are stepping gingerly out and peeking around the corner to see what Fate is up to. But things soon accelerate and, while Jarvi and the Tonhalle do not quite throw off sparks like the Leningrad group, they still bring plenty of feeling to the performance. Despite the differences in timing, I heard Jarvi’s phrasing and approach as fairly similar to Mravinsky’s – until the finale, where Mravinsky takes off at an incredible, almost shocking pace. Jarvi gives the music plenty of energy, but not like that – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Independently of tempo, the fourth movement also is where interpretive differences among many performances are most obvious. The finale concludes a work that has vacillated between anxiety and hesitation on one hand and hope and determination on the other; the final movement supposedly represents “ultimate victory through strife.” The obvious reading thus comes down on the side of affirmation. But there is another reading, one that implies that the hope is superficial; that whistles past the graveyard; that swaggers along with false confidence, fearing that darkness and even despair lurk just underneath the surface. (Of course, there is no one correct view: surely a hallmark of great art is that it is open to multiple interpretations.) As the earlier quotation from Jarvi implies, this performance is in the former camp, emphasizing the positive and building a majestic soundscape for that view.

At this point in the review, it is common to call out a few illustrative details of the performance, either to praise some particularly felicitous phrasings or to pick some especially annoying nits. Frustratingly – for me, not so much for you – I found it difficult to carry out this duty. At the risk of sounding as though I am copping out completely, I found passage after passage nicely judged and well-played, with the Zurich forces producing music that seemed to flow naturally without calling attention to the conducting or playing. Indeed, it was only after several hearings that I became truly conscious of just how well-rehearsed and very much together the orchestra sounds: phrases start and stop precisely, accents are on the nose, with the musicians playing as one. Great playing like that does not call attention to itself, but instead keeps the attention on the music.

At this point, the astute reader will have noticed that I have yet to mention the second work on the disk, Francesca da Rimini. True, but let’s face it: the Fifth is the main attraction here. In brief, the Francesca is a solid, well-played performance – but I don’t find it as engaging or as powerful as its CD mate. Maybe it’s just me.

Heaven only knows how many commercial recordings of the Tchaikovsky Fifth have been released over the years. I recently found what purported to be a list of these recordings but gave up counting at 100 – and guessed that I was a quarter of the way through! Let’s just say that I own a few CDs of the Fifth, and I’ve heard more here and there – and with those in mind, I can recommend the Jarvi/Tonhalle recording as an excellent performance in excellent sound, well worth hearing even if you, too, have more recordings of the work than you really need.

BH

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

Beethoven: Complete String Quartets, Volume 1 (CD review)

The Opus 18 quartets, Nos. 1-6. Dover Quartet. Cedille CDR 90000198 (2-disc set).

By John J. Puccio

Between the years 1797 and 1826 German composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote sixteen numbered string quartets and one, single-movement, unnumbered quartet. The first six of these quartets comprise Op. 18, which we have here in the Dover Quartet’s first volume of complete Beethoven string quartets.

For those of you unsure of who The Dover Quartet are (or for those who cannot remember the information I provided in a previous review of their Mozart album, “Tribute”), they are, according to Wikipedia, “an American string quartet. It was formed at the Curtis Institute of Music in 2008 by graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Rice University Shepherd School of Music. Its name is taken from the piece “Dover Beach” by Samuel Barber. The quartet consists of violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-Van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw. In 2020, the quartet was appointed to the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music as ensemble-in-residence. Additionally, they hold residencies with the Kennedy Center, Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, Artosphere, the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival, and Peoples’ Symphony Concerts in New York.” The current Beethoven album is the fourth one they have released on which they are the primary performers.

So, here they give us Beethoven’s first six string quartets, written between 1798-1800, starting with No. 1, which in reality is the second quartet he wrote, but you know how those early numbering systems went with publication dates and all. Anyway, the composer admitted that he liked this second quartet better than the first ones he wrote (officially numbered as Nos. 2 and 3) because he admitted “only now have I learnt to write quartets.” OK, so No. 1 is the second one he wrote, and apparently he felt he had finally gotten it right.

Whatever, the Dover Quartet play No. 1 with elegance and élan. They do not attempt tempos quite so fast as most historically informed groups might take, yet the music is always lively and alert. The outer movements are joyous, and the slow movement is serene in a melancholy way. They mesh well. As I’ve said before, the Dover Quartet play with a passionate clarity, and while every instrument is distinctively individual, they blend perfectly as a whole.

Beethoven was right. No. 1, the second quartet he wrote, really is better than the first one he wrote. The fact is, the first quartet he wrote seems to rest firmly on eighteenth-century norms. To my ears No. 1 actually appears more original than either Nos. 2 or 3, even if the composer did borrow parts of No. 1 from an earlier work of his. Anyway, Nos. 2 and 3 are light and frothy in the classical manner, quite charming, actually, just not entirely substantive. Or maybe I should say the Dover Quartet provide the substance.

With Nos. 4-6 (also published differently than their chronological composition dates) Beethoven really came more into his own, with No. 6 an especially strong entry with even more lyrical activity and more gravitas than the previous ones, beginning with a delightful Mozartian lilt. The last time I reviewed these Beethoven quartets was about a year or so earlier, they were done by the Eybler Quartet on the CORO label, and they did them a little differently. The Eybler Quartet are a period-instrument group and adopt a slightly faster and more flexible tempo according to historical practice. The Dover Quartet on modern instruments are marginally smoother and more mellifluous than the Eyblers and a tad more romantic in style. I welcome both perspectives and found them both a delight.

Producer Alan Bise and engineer Bruce Egre recorded the quartets at Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College Music Center, Goshen, Indiana in 2018 and 2019. As with most Cedille recordings, this one is completely natural and lifelike, meaning it is smooth, detailed, and realistically presented. The acoustic of the hall provides a soft, ambient glow to the music that complements it nicely. Never is the sonic picture hard, bright, or edgy. Nor is it blurred, distant, spongy, or dull. It’s all quite pleasantly listenable. If I have any minor concern at all, it would be about imaging. The group seems rather widely spread out across the speakers, and there isn’t a lot of air, distance, or depth among them. It’s a common practice in miking small string ensembles, giving the impression of a single, larger group on a one-dimensional plane. Nothing of consequence, though, really.

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 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

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