Feb 28, 2021

Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (SACD review)

Also, music by Coll, de Falla, Albeniz, Harden. Jacob Kellermann, guitar; Christian Karlsen, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Norrbotten NEO. BIS BIS-2485.

By John J. Puccio

According to Wikipedia, “The modern word guitar, and its antecedents, has been applied to a wide variety of chordophones since classical times and as such causes confusion. The English word guitar, the German Gitarre, and the French guitare were all adopted from the Spanish guitarra, which comes from the Andalusian Arabic (qitharah) and the Latin cithara, which in turn came from the Ancient Greek. Kithara appears in the Bible four times (1 Cor. 14:7, Rev. 5:8, 14:2 and 15:2), and is usually translated into English as harp.”

So the origins of the modern guitar date back thousands of years. The surprise is that Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) didn’t write what has become quite possibly the most-popular guitar concerto of all time, the Concierto de Aranjuez, until 1939. What’s more, it wasn’t even recorded until well into the 1940’s and didn’t achieve worldwide popularity until classical guitarist Narciso Yepes made the first of his several recordings of it a few years later.

Today, practically every notable classical guitarist in the world has either recorded the work or aspires to record it. The release we’re considering at the moment is the 2019 recording by Swedish guitarist Jacob Kellermann (b. 1984), with Maestro Christian Karlsen leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

As you no doubt know, Rodrigo got his inspiration for the Concierto from the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort palace and gardens built by Philip II in the last half of the 16th century. The music attempts to convey the feeling of another time and place by summoning the sounds of nature.

Rodrigo described the first movement Allegro con spirito as "animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes interrupting its relentless pace." Kellerman and Karlsen provide the movement with plenty of the composer’s idea of “spirit,” while not going so far as to make the music sound reckless or hurried. What’s more, Kellerman conveys the temper of flamenco dance in the music, always a good move, although Kellerman refers to it in the booklet note as “a march.” Whatever, he handles it well.

The composer said the second movement "represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments” (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn, etc.). What he didn’t say was how utterly beautiful it can be, something audiences have been saying for more than eighty years now. At its heart the music is a soulful, almost mournful dialogue between the guitar and various instrumental soloists, particularly the cor anglais. Taken too slowly, this movement can sound overly sentimental, even drippy. Kellerman takes it perhaps a shade too far in the other direction, however, losing some of the music’s poignancy along the way. It’s here, too, that the grandeur of the London Philharmonic threatens to overwhelm Kellerman’s guitar work.

Then there’s a perky little closing tune, one that Rodrigo said "recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar." It seems to me it should be taut and lively, maybe a bit effervescent, sparkly. Here, we get Kellerman in an appropriately playful mood, and he closes out the show in good form.

Kellerman is a fine guitarist, and his Rodrigo is of a high order. However, I still think Pepe Romero’s 70’s recording for Philips (now on Decca) is the more well-rounded interpretation, and the Yepes accounts carry more authority (especially the 1959 release remastered by HDTT).

Accompanying Rodrigo’s guitar concerto are several shorter works for guitar by Francisco Coll (the contemporary work, Turia), Manuel de Falla (Hamenaje), Isaac Albeniz (Evocacion), and Pete Harden (another contemporary piece called Solace and Shimmer). I can’t say I liked the Coll music as much as I probably should have; it tries too consciously to imitate Rodrigo in a modern style I did not find attractive. The Harden work, however, shows more promise and demonstrates the influence of Rodrigo’s second movement. Still, why do so many modern composers eschew melody and rhythm as if they were some kind of mutant viruses?

Producer Hans Kipfer and engineer Jens Braun recorded the Rodrigo piece at Henry Wood Hall, London, England in October 2019 and the others at Studio Acusticu, Pitea and Sveriges Radio Studio 3, Stockholm, Sweden in 2017 and 2018. They made the recording in hybrid 2-channel stereo and multichannel SACD, the regular 2-channel stereo playable on any ordinary CD player and the SACD 2-channel and multichannel formats playable on an SACD player. As always, I listened to the 2-channel SACD layer.

I’ve always liked the sound of BIS recordings, and this one is fairly good, too. There is a modest reverberation in the hall that imparts a feeling of realism, and there is enough dynamic range to convey the excitement of the music. Most important, the guitar seems aptly lifelike, even with the modest reverb I mentioned before. If I have any concerns about the recording, it’s that the instruments loom a bit large, there is a little too much evidence of multi-miking, and there isn’t a lot of distance, air, or depth amidst the orchestral accompaniment.


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

Feb 24, 2021

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)

Feb 21, 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.


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

Feb 17, 2021

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).


Feb 14, 2021

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.


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

Feb 10, 2021

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.


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

Feb 7, 2021

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.


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

Feb 3, 2021

Saint-Saens: Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 10 (CD review)

Also, String Quartet 1 in E minor, Op 112. Andrea Lucchesini; Quartetto di Cremona. Audite LC04480.

By Bill Heck

John Puccio recently reviewed a release (Italian Postcards) from the Quartetto di Cremona, and in that review he provided some background information on the ensemble. I won’t repeat it all here: feel free to read that review if you want more details (https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2020/12/italian-postcards-cd-review.html). What I will say is that the performance reviewed here does nothing to detract from their stellar reputation--read on for those details.

Piano Quintet
The Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 10 is an early, though not immature, work. It opens with a dramatic series of chords on the piano in a minor key that keeps trying to switch to major; that pattern repeats multiple times with variations as the strings join in. Things soon settle into a sunnier mood with quiet back-and-forth among the instruments. The figures used in development are relatively simple, but the interplay is enjoyable.

The second movement builds on a slow, quiet theme, which receives some lovely playing from all involved. The short third movement features long, dramatic runs up and down the scale, mostly on the piano, with the strings taking turns adding emphasis.
The fourth movement starts with a canon in the strings; the strings soon abandon that melody, but the piano picks it up briefly before launching a new theme, which is in turn echoed by the strings. The initial canon returns in the strings, only to be recycled multiple times. The first and second themes appear alternately with variations until the pace quickens, taking us to the end of the movement and the work.

The playing here is nuanced and superbly executed. Of particular note is the energy that the Quartetto brings to the work: in their hands, the music is dramatic, although not overly so. They clearly find the work worth the effort of playing well.

Although the quintet is a relatively youthful work, it really is quite enjoyable. Thus, I was surprised to find only a few other recordings. (To avoid confusion, I should note that there are two later Piano Quartets and two Piano Trios, all of which seem to have been more frequently recorded than the Quintet.) Thus, this well-played version is a welcome addition to the catalog.

String Quartet No. 1
While the String Quartet 1 in E minor, Op. 112 was Saint-Saens' first in that genre, it can hardly be called an early work, as the composer was 64 years old at the time of its composition. Compared to the piano quintet, the quartet is noticeably more mature and complex, but still quite accessible.

The music starts out with a single note held on the violin and harmonized by the viola, twice repeated, as if a plaintive cry. The work then breaks into a minor key melody in a loping rhythm, again halting for a sustained, repeated note. The instruments answer each other with ascending and descending scales, and swap melodies, sliding back and forth between major and minor keys as if trying to bring light to a gloomy picture. After further development, the scales return, eventually bringing the listener to an emotionally ambiguous conclusion.

The second movement begins with a simple, quick four-note figure repeated over and over as it is handed back and forth between the instruments. The players really dig in, and the result is almost frantic, an effect that one presumes was just what Saint-Saens was going for. The music calms down a bit as the movement continues, only to return with quick nervous energy to those four-note figures. Again, the music demands energy, and the Quartetto supplies it, keeping the sense of drama going until Saint-Saens has them play a few final notes more slowly and quietly, as if exhausted by their labors.

The third movement could hardly be more different, beginning slowly with a beautiful, winding melody carried by the violin. The intertwining voices of the instruments reminds me of nothing so much as the intertwining voices that one might hear in an operatic duet by, say, Puccini. The playing in this movement is the only one that gives me slight pause: perhaps that Quartetto is a little too dynamic, giving the lovely chant-like sound almost a pulsing quality. That’s a quibble, though, that occurred to me only on repeated hearing when I was looking for issues. Listeners who are just relaxing rather than reviewing should be quite satisfied.

Entering the finale, the music takes a breath and then launches into another rhythmically complex and passionate, even agitated, development that returns several phrases from the first movement. Saint-Saens again whips up the pace toward the finish line, with the music ending as it began in a minor key. Again, the Quartetto is fully up to the task, the music crackling with energy to the end.

All in all, I found this work quite enjoyable and rewarding, thoroughly romantic and spirited, but with enough musical interest to hold attention.

There are plenty of performances of this work out there, so let me pick just a couple for comparison. The Quatuor Girard plays nicely, although slightly less energetically and dynamically than the Cremona crew. To my ears, though, they are sabotaged by an over-reverberant recording that obscures some of the passage work, and sound that tends to collapse onto the speakers in the more dynamic passages. The Fine Arts Quartet plays well and offers both the first and second quartets on a Naxos disk for those who crave completeness. Their account of the first is not so highly strung as that that of the Cremona players; for example, the Quartetto plays the second movement much faster than the Fine Arts group, at the same time really digging in to their instruments, so much so that returning from the Naxos disk to this one gives the impression of a completely different work. To my ears, the Quartetto di Cremona makes the music more exciting – even the word “spooky” comes to mind at points in the second movement – and more interesting.

I suspect that some listeners will find this performance a little too much, a little too dramatic. For my money, though, the intensity brought by the Quartetto di Cremona is just what’s needed for the music here.

Both performances in this release are enhanced by the recorded sound, which is quite clear and places the instruments in believable space, with no trace of harshness. Some room reverberation is retained, but with the music emerging from an absolutely silent background. If pressed for some negative, I might quibble that the sound of the cello displays the slightest trace of thinness, but a mere quibble and hardly can detract from the overall quality of the recording.


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa