Recent Releases (CD Mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Christopher Tin: To Shiver the Sky. Danielle de Niese, soprano; Pene Pati, tenor; ModernMedieval; Royal Opera Chorus; Pembroke College Girls’ Choir; The Assembly; Anna Lapwood, Organ; Christopher Tin, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Decca Gold B0032422-02.

The foreword to the liner notes proclaims that “This is the story of flight: of humanity’s quest to break the bonds of earth, challenge the heavens, and take our rightful place among the stars… This is the story of flight told through music, and through the words of 11 of history’s pioneers, pilots and engineers, scientists and storytellers, stargazers and mystics, men and women who freed us from the shackles of gravity, and stretched the limits of our imagination. It’s the greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” That is certainly an ambitious aim, and although I will freely admit to some skepticism, I will humbly admit that I was entertained and indeed won over by the music of the young American composer Christopher Tin (b. 1976), of whom I had never heard before checking this CD out of the library. With lyrics from historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, Ovid, Copernicus, Yuri Gagarin, and others, sung in a variety of languages, with grand musical arrangements and powerful sonics, this truly is a release that will make a music-loving audiophile shiver in delight.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5; Gossec: Symphonie à 17 parties. François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902423.

I recently completed a modest survey of recordings of Beethoven’s venerable Symphony No. 5 in which I looked at both period instrument recordings (
7/5 of Beethoven Part 1) and those by modern orchestral forces (7/5 of Beethoven Part 2). Having spent so much time listening to that work, wonderful though it is, I was not really all that eager to audition yet another recording of it, but this new recording by Maestro Roth and his French period-instrument orchestra had two appealing things going for it. First, I had heard previous recordings they had made of music by Debussy and Ravel and had been quite impressed by both the performance and sound; second, I had never heard of the French composer François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) and was curious to hear his music. As it turned out upon auditioning this well-engineered Harmonia Mundi CD, my curiosity was richly rewarded. Although the Beethoven performance does not quite edge out the Savall for pride of place in my personal pantheon, this is a fine version that is well worth hearing, especially for those who have not yet heard the Fifth performed by other than a modern orchestra. But the real ear-opener was the Gossec, an energetic symphony that fully deserves to be heard alongside the mighty Beethoven work. What as pleasant surprise! Listening to the Gossec reminded me of when I finally sat down and listened seriously to the Beethoven Symphony No. 2, a work I had always neglected in favor of his other symphonies. My goodness, what had I been missing all those years?! Hearing the Gossec gave me a similar feeling–why had I never heard this music before?! This is an exciting, stimulating work, fully deserving to be heard alongside Beethoven, and I intend to seek out more music by this composer. I suspect that if you give this CD a listen, you may well want to do the same.

Borodin: Requiem. Ian Boughton, tenor; Stephanie Chase, violin; Margaret Field, soprano; Geoffrey Simon, Philharmonia Orchestra/BBC Symphony Chorus. Cala Signum SIGCD2094.

Longtime classical music fans might remember Australian-born conductor Geoffrey Simon (b. 1946) from those superb Debussy recordings he made with the Philharmonia for the Cala label back in the early ‘90s. Those recordings are what sprang to my mind when I saw this new release at the library; indeed, I was surprised to see that Simon was apparently back at it three decades later. It was not until I had already played (and thoroughly enjoyed) this CD a couple of times that I read the fine print to discover that although the copyright for this release was 2020, the recording was done in 1992. I then took a quick look on Amazon and found out that this program was originally released on Cala in 1993 as a Borodin collection, then reissued by Cala in 2006 with a new cover, this time highlighting the Requiem, and now it is being reissued once again as a Cala Signum release, with another new cover that once again highlights the Requiem.

If you were not aware that the Russian chemist and composer Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) wrote a requiem, you need not be embarrassed. This is not a requiem mass in the manner of Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Verdi, et al. It is one movement that lasts only 5:26 as performed here. And oh, by the way, the original was a little piano piece by Borodin; the orchestration done by the conductor Leopold Stokowski. Why, then, is it the title of the album? Ahh, the mysteries of life and classical music marketing…

That said, it is an interesting enough little piece, and the rest of the program consists of more substantial fare that highlights the colorful, melodic music for which Borodin is famous. There are the Polovstian Dances and Suite from Prince Igor, an arrangement for violin and orchestra by fellow Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov of Borodin’s Nocturne from his String Quartet No. 2, his symphonic poem In the Steppes of Central Asia, and finally, his Petite Suite, which Borodin originally wrote for the piano but was later orchestrated by Glazunov. All in all, what we have here is more than 78 minutes of colorful, expressive, well-recorded music that offers a great overview and introduction to Borodin.    

Desplat: Airlines. Emmanuel Pahud, flute; Alexandre Desplat, Orchestre National de France. Warner Classics 0190295306878.

French film composer Alexandre Desplat (b. 1961) has won Academy awards for his scores for The Shape of Water and The Grand Budapest Hotel, both of which are represented in arrangements of excerpts on this imposing new release from Warner Classics is which Desplat makes a case for considering film music as serious music, not just light music for entertainment. The program also includes his Pelléas et Mélisande, which the composer describes as a Symphony concertante inspired by Debussy and written to highlight the sound of the flute, played here by renowned French flautist Emmanuel Pahud (an article about Pahud’s golden flute appears in the March 2021 issue of Gramophone, which coincidentally enough arrived at my abode the same day as I first auditioned this CD). Yes, overall this CD sounds for the most part like movie music, but it is very fine movie music; indeed, it is very good music period, and well-recorded to boot. Some may find the sweetness of the music combined with the sweetness of the flute a bit too caloric, but hey, we all enjoy an occasional overindulgence, right? No, this is not the kind of music I would be likely to play over and over, but for those who enjoy cinematic sound, this is well worth an audition. (And if you have never seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, you definitely need to fill that gap in your cinematic experience…)     

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (“The Year 1905”). Vladimir Jurowski, London Philharmonic Orchestra. London Philharmonic Orchestra LPO-0118.

The Symphony No. 11 (“The Year 1905”)
by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) comes across in many ways more like one big tone poem than it does a symphony, which is not surprising, given that its four movements are each given tone-poem-like titles and that the four movements are played without pause. To my mind, at least, as much as I admire Shostakovich, No. 11 is one of those pieces you just have to be in the mood for, and frankly, that mood does not strike me often. When it does, though, I want a performance that really brings the music to life, and this one by Jurowski and the LPO just does not do it for me. It just seems too polite, too matter-of-fact. When I am in the mood to hear this work, I would much rather listen to the rendition by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons on DG, a performance and recording of significantly greater impact and power. YMMV. 

Bruckner: Mass in E minor; Motets. Henry Websdale and Donal McCann, organ; Sir Stephen Cleobury, The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields. King’s College Cambridge KG50035.

Bruckner is most well-known for his symphonies, but he also composed in other genres, such as masses and motets. This recording presents the second of his three masses plus several of his motets. Unfortunately, I was immediately put off by the sound of the voices, which to my ears at least just sounded young and shouty, just not right for this music. Thinking I was perhaps in some sort of churlish mood, I pulled out an older DG recording of the same E minor Mass as performed by the Choir and Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio Symphony under the direction of Eugen Jochum and was immediately reassured that no, the problem was neither my mood nor my hearing, it was with the sound of the young English choir. That is a shame, because in every other respect – engineering, liner notes, etc. – this is truly a first-class release, but the sonority of the choir simply seems inadequate to communicate the deep beauty of this music. In the end, this is a disappointing release.    

Bach: Goldberg Variations. Parker Ramsay, harp. King’s College Cambridge KG50049.

From the same label comes a recording that is the very opposite of a disappointment. This performance the young American musician Parker Ramsay of Bach’s immortal Goldberg Variations is utterly delightful, first-class in every respect. But what makes it truly revelatory is that Ramsay has not recorded them on piano, nor on harpsichord, but instead he has recorded a transcription he made for harp, and rather than sounding like some sort of novelty, it sounds perfectly natural, musical, and glorious. In the liner notes, Ramsay asserts that he “wanted to show the world that the harp is not a toy for composers to whip out in precious moments in orchestral music, but a serious instrument whose variety of timbre can hold the attention span of a listener for an hour or more.” For a spellbinding 78 minutes and 45 seconds, this recording proves his point. If you are a fan of the Goldbergs, you really ought to put this recording on your must-hear list. It will give you a whole new perspective on the musical possibilities of the harp as well as a deeper appreciation for the genius of Bach.    

#Goldberg Reflections: Niklas Liepe, violin; Jamie Phillips, NDR Radiophilharmonie. Sony Music 19439778302.

From Sony comes another fascinating perspective on the possibilities inherent in the Goldbergs, not from a single instrument this time, but rather from an ensemble. Or, more precisely, ensembles, not only of performers but also of composers. On this ambitious two-CD album, violinist Niklas Liepe has masterminded a musical collection consisting of arrangements of movements from the Goldbergs interspersed with brief compositions by contemporary composers that are reactions to, reflections upon, takeoffs from, or otherwise inspired by Bach’s iconic composition. The musicians include Niklas Liepe, violin; Nils Liepe, harpsichord and piano; Anna Lewis, solo viola; Nikolai Schneider, cello; Friedrich Heinrich Kern, vibraphone; and conductor Jamie Phillips leading the NDR Radiophilharmonie. The composers include Rolf Rudin (b. 1961, Germany), Sidney Corbett (b. 1960, USA), Andreas Tarkmann (b. 1956, Germany), Dominik Dieterle (b. 1989, Germany), Wolf Kerschek (b. 1969, Germany), Moritz Eggert (b. 1965, Germany), Daniel Sundy (b. 1979, USA), Tobias Rokahr (b. 1972, Germany), Friedrich Heinrich Kern (b. 1980, Germany), Stephan Koncz (b. 1984, Austria), and Konstantia Gourzi (b. 1962, Greece). This might sound like a huge hodgepodge, but it all blends together into an entertaining whole that stays true to Bach while expanding the conception of the variations. Yes, it expands from Bach, but is firmly rooted in Bach, and never strays from style or sonority that sounds estranged from the sound-world of the Goldbergs. The end result is spellbinding, one that should appeal to just about anyone who loves the music of Bach, and even to those who have not yet discovered the music of the great master. I simply cannot recommend this too highly; it is one heck of a hoot!

LCO Live - Vaughan Williams | Suk | Dvorak. Christopher Warren-Green, London Chamber Orchestra. Signum Classics SIGCD638.

Sometimes you just need to be reminded how lovely certain music can be. Auditioning this CD, which I had added with some reluctance to the stack of new releases I had found at the library, did just that for me. What a revealing reminder of what I had been missing from music I had long neglected! Not so much the opening piece, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams, for I play a lot of RVW’s music and the Tallis Fantasia is often included on various RVW releases, but even in this case, the beauty of this performance by the London Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Warren-Green quickly brought a smile to my face. It was the Serenades by Suk and his teacher Dvorak that really made my day, for I had truly forgotten just how beautiful, how moving, how rewarding these works are. With more that 70 minutes of lovingly performed, warmly recorded music for strings, this is truly a recording to both stir and soothe the soul, delivering whatever your soul might need during these difficult days.


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Meet the Staff

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

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

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

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa