Soul of Spanish Guitar (CD review)

Pablo Sáinz-Villegas. Sony Classical 19439786732.

By Bill Heck

When confronted with an album like this, it can be tempting to say something like “Yeah, yeah, another guitar recital with some Spanish stuff, we’ve heard it all before….” In this case, while it’s true that we have here another guitar recital, that the works played are indeed all by Spanish composers (counting an “anonymous” traditional piece), and that you likely have heard many of the works before, at least if you listen to many classical guitar albums, this one is worth a listen and should be a plausible addition to your collection. 

First, the performer: Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, hardly a rookie, having some half dozen or so albums to his credit already. Judging from what I hear on this collection, he has not only the requisite technical ability but also, and just as importantly, the ability to translate technique into real music. In sampling performances by various other artists for comparisons, I was struck by how many – not all, of course, but enough – seemed just to run through the notes, concentrating on getting them out in order, but forgetting to bring the whole together, to add a sense of coherence, or even to make it sound like they cared. (I know that this last bit sounds over the top, but I must say that a fair number of number of performances seemed low on the emotion scale.) Secondly, the recording itself is excellent, with the sound of a small-bodied guitar, one built in the Spanish style, captured in a natural perspective. One would think that recording the guitar would be relatively easy, but apparently not: in sampling guitar recordings, one often hears tone that is off or excessive reverberation (even artificial reverb) or an eight-foot-wide instrument or excessive finger noise or sound that seems to be coming from another room or…you get the idea.

Despite these grumbles, there are plenty of other nice recitals with similar collections of music out there. But as I listened to alternatives, it became clear that the Villegas album combines music, musicianship, and sound engineering to deliver an enjoyable product.

To illustrate, let’s compare performances of two familiar works. In Albeniz’ Asturias (Leyenda), Villegas moves at a pace that we might call brisk but not rushed. One point of note is how well the strummed chords that punctuate the central section fit in without interrupting the musical flow. As a very low-level guitarist, I can appreciate that this is quite a trick to pull off. Villegas also uses subtle gradations of volume to bring life – may I say “sparkle”? – to the work, and his descent to pianissimo at the end of the bridging section is very well done indeed.

My first comparison was obligatory: to Segovia, the godfather of them all. His tempo is similar to Villegas, or rather we should say that Villegas’ tempo is similar to Segovia’s; indeed, the entire approach is similar. (There certainly is no shame in being compared to Segovia!) Villegas may be slightly ahead on technique; there is no doubt that the modern recording is significantly ahead of the older one. I made notes on other performances by the likes of Williams, Isbin, Li, and Grondona, but I’ll spare you all the details. Suffice it to say that Villegas’ account holds up nicely: indeed, I thought that Villegas was in some ways the most satisfactory of the bunch.

My second comparison work was Tarrega’s Recuerdes de la Alhambra (“Memories of the Alhambra” for those lacking a Spanish dictionary). Villegas’ account is quite slow; indeed, I think he would be better served by speeding up just a bit, as the tempo tends to emphasize the inevitable slight unevenness of the trilled notes as well as the shifting pitch as the melody notes are “bent”. Still, he exhibits wonderful phrasing and control, creating a mood of wistful longing, which surely fits the music. Moreover, he produces an actual dynamic range, not the easiest with this piece. And Villegas is hardly the slowest of quite a group: Pepe Romero and Sharon Isbin, for example, are even slower (Romero by a lot). Again, Villegas holds up well relative to these and my other comparisons (Yepes, Bream, Schulstad, Gueddes, and – of course – Segovia); in particular, a couple who shall remain unnamed just seem to be running through the notes, something that Villegas never does.

I mentioned those two works because they are particularly familiar: if you don’t remember them by title, you’ll know them when you hear them. But no need to revisit every track on the album: let’s just posit that this is a well-played and enjoyable collection.

As described above, the sound is first-rate, very clean and natural if perhaps seeming just a touch closeup on occasion. The liner notes include an essay about Spain, Spanish music, and the Spanish guitar that, if not particularly informative in regard to the music, nicely conveys Villegas’s love for his native country and its music.


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

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 (CD review)

Teodor Currentzis, MusicAeterna. Sony 19439743772.

By John J. Puccio

The Greek-Russian conductor Teodor Currentzis is the latest musician to take the classical music world by storm (even though he was nearly fifty at the time of this review), producing sometimes controversial but decidedly absorbing interpretations that at the very least meet his own demanding if unconventional standards. He reminds me a little of Gustavo Dudamel over a decade ago in his creativity, enthusiasm, and willingness to throw caution to the wind. It’s clear Currentzis knows exactly what he wants and isn’t about to let anyone stop him from achieving it.

Serving Currentzis’s occasionally unorthodox approach to the classics is his handpicked, relatively small, period-performance orchestra, MusicAeterna, which he founded in 2004. According to the Web site, Currentzis chose his players from around Russia and persuaded them to move to Siberia, where they experienced intense rehearsal and recording schedules. According to James Rhodes in The London Guardian, "They live, eat and breathe there, and the majority of their waking moments are spent creating music." During this time, the orchestra appeared on several of Currentzis’s recordings on the Alpha label. The following year, Currentzis moved to the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, and MusicAeterna was reconstituted in that city as Currentzis began to forge distinctive, highly dramatic interpretations of music from the Baroque to the early 20th century. Sony Classical signed MusicAeterna to its label and in 2013 released their first album with Currentzis, a collection of arias by Rameau. The conductor and orchestra’s fame spread internationally with recordings of Mozart operas and the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony.

Currentzis and MusicAeterna have performed all over the world, as well as in their home city of Perm. Their repertory ranges from Baroque choral music to Russian music and contemporary music, and they have toured with a concert version of Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. In 2016, MusicAeterna became the first Russian orchestra to open the Salzburg Festival.

On the present recording, they tackle Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, written in 1811-12. At its première, which Beethoven conducted, the composer remarked that it was one of his best works. The second movement Allegretto proved so popular he had to encore it, and it has often been performed in concert separate from the rest of the symphony.

Beethoven’s Seventh has remained among the composer’s most popular symphonies to this day, and it’s easy to see why. One of its fans, Richard Wagner noted the work’s lively rhythms and called it the "apotheosis of the dance." In other words, a model of perfection for dance music.

So, what does the Currentzis recording bring to the table that previous recordings have not? That, of course, would be a purely subjective assessment. You would think the first thing from a historical perspective might be a slavish adherence to Beethoven’s rather quick metronome marks, but, no. A quick comparison to two period-instrument performances, one from Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players and the other from Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque, show that Currentzis’s timings are just about between the two: Norrington the fastest, McGegan a tad slower. To my ear, the difference in this new Currentzis account is that it strives more for dynamism than most, for a vigorous forceful thrust throughout the dance rhythms. Yet it does so with the utmost grace and perfection in mind, the orchestra reacting to every note as a polished whole, as though they were all one instrument. In this regard, it reminds me a little of the old Fritz Reiner performance with the Chicago Symphony. It’s clear that both conductors knew exactly what they wanted, even if it took away some of music’s ultimate joy.

Anyway, the symphony opens with a Poco Sostenuto, sustained about as Beethoven might have wanted, which leads inevitably to a full-fleged Vivace (lively and fast). Here, Currentzis is not so very different from many other conductors. This is certainly not an “unorthodox” reading. In fact, while Currentzis is unmistakably precise, he ultimately sounds pretty much like everyone else. Still, there are some delightful nuances, mostly of dynamism and rubato, that make some of it a delight to hear.

The second movement is, as I mentioned, an Allegretto (a moderately fast, intermediate tempo between an Andante and an Allegro). It’s here that we find Currentzis at his most idiosyncratic. The deviations in dynamic levels are intense, and the sense of forward momentum seldom decreases. Yet the movement never sounds rushed or hurried. It unfolds splendidly.

Beethoven marks the third movement scherzo Presto-Presto meno assai (fast, then less). The central trio is an Austrian “pilgrims hymn” repeated twice. Currentzis takes the composer at his word, starting very fast and exciting and transitioning seamlessly to a more moderate tempo. Currentzis plays the whole thing with a smoothness of flow that rivets one’s attention.

The symphony concludes with an impassioned flourish, an Allegro con brio (a fast, spirited, animated tempo). Musical analysts over the years have described it as a fiery bacchanal, the dance rhythms more and more a revel, an unrestrained merrymaking. Currentzis keeps the rhythms at the forefront, but I didn’t find the degree of exhilaration I expected. The conductor seems a bit too fastidious with producing exacting but not particularly stirring or stimulating notes.

My own personal reaction to Currentzis’s interpretation is that it doesn’t always conform to my own preferences. I always think of Beethoven’s Sixth and Seventh Symphonies as his most genial and happy symphonies, the Seventh especially alive with its bouncy, infectious dance music. It’s perhaps why I enjoy Sir Colin Davis’s modern-instruments recordings (EMI and Philips) and Nicholas McGegan’s period-instruments recording so much. Yet unlike these other conductors, Currentzis appears more concerned with the exactitude and detail of the notes rather than with the pleasure they can produce. Still, even for all his fastidiousness, Currentzis’s performance is really not significantly different from many others, so I can’t complain much. The sound is good, and the dynamics are extraordinary; a lot of folks will enjoy it.

The only real drawback to the disc is that it contains only the Seventh Symphony, no couplings. At almost an even forty minutes, the symphony hardly takes up half the disc, and a lot of classical-music listeners might be conditioned to expect somewhat more.

Producer Giovanni Prosdocimi and engineer Damien Quintard recorded the symphony at the Great Hall, Vienna Concert House, Vienna, Austria in July and August 2018. The sound they obtained is very dynamic, with a wide range and good impact. It’s also very clean and smooth, a trifle close, and fairly one-dimensional. There’s not a lot of hall ambience, either, which adds to the sound’s clarity but diminishes its realism. It’s the kind of sound that seems to embrace the conductor’s clear-sighted vision of the music without quite taking us into its heart.


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

On Upgrading What’s Analog…

By Bryan Geyer

THE POSIT—Recent technology advances make it practical to upgrade select analog functions in many conventional stereo systems. It’s now possible to…
…dramatically extend the range and enhance the linearity of low bass response.
…materially reduce the mass of the main speaker enclosures.
…clarify the midrange response by isolating it from low bass modulation.
…eliminate archaic high-level passive crossovers that reflect only low order filter slopes.
…enable precise line-level active crossovers with full 4th order (-24dB/octave) attenuation.

BACKGROUND—The pursuit of good sound is evolutionary, but the conviction that high fidelity = big speakers persists. Low frequencies have long wavelengths (28 feet at 40 Hz), so big transducers, in big enclosures, have always been considered essential to reproduce, propel, and propagate big bass. Regardless, monstrous monkey coffins that require prominent front-and-center placement look absurd in domestic living rooms, so reasonable compromise is vital. The usual course is: (a) downsize the speakers, or (b) always entertain outside, or (c) cram the system into a “man-cave”, even though the main LR offers superior acoustics (lower Schroeder frequency), or (d) use headphones only. These are odious options; let’s pursue better.

WHAT’S CHANGED—In the mid ’90s, the push to popularize home theater became dependent on finding a practical way to recreate Godzilla’s footfall while squeezing the mass out of the additional speaker enclosures. This paradox looked hopeless until design guru Bob Carver, then at Sunfire, proposed his astonishing new (1997) self-powered “True Subwoofer” as a viable solution. Market acceptance was slow until Sunfire’s patent grip was softened; then the trade piled on. The new subs could pump out pure (low harmonic content) 30Hz sine wave bursts at pressure levels exceeding anything previously envisioned. Today, relatively compact subwoofers with only a single 10" or 12" diameter driver (e.g., can produce lower, louder, and cleaner bottom bass (the two bass octaves below 80Hz) than the very best, biggest, and most expensive full range floor-standers ever built by anybody, anywhere.

Tempering this marvel is the reality that these new self-powered subwoofers excel at just one thing: They can handle those two bass octaves better than any conventional woofer. They’re able to do that because they’re expressly designed for a single, solitary mission. They have extremely deep, ultra stiff cones, long and compliant surrounds with extended x-mass capability, and they’re driven by high power class D amps that apply carefully contoured equalization. Unlike the woofers in a costly full range floor-stander, the “sub” doesn’t have to produce any appreciable output above ~ 140Hz. Conversely, a conventional full range floor-stander is designed with the expectation that it must also cover the full low-to-middle bass range, commonly extending to frequencies approaching ~ 800Hz, and do so with good linearity. That’s a stringent additional assignment.

TODAY—If the intent is to achieve optimal fidelity, we need to reconsider how stereo systems should be configured. Clearly, paired stereo subwoofers* should handle the bottom bass octaves. The main stereo loudspeakers can then be reduced in size to reflect the fact that they will no longer have to reproduce those subterranean sounds. Stand-mount main speakers with 6" to 8" drivers have proved absolutely optimum. Excellent bookshelf-size speakers, like Harman’s Revel Performa M126Be (, or the Revel M106 (, come to mind, and they confer welcome decor relief. The related subwoofers are best placed near the front corners of the room, at or near floor level, where they’re generally easy to accommodate. There’s simply no need, anymore, for monstrous four to five foot tall main speakers that are packed with multiple 10", 12", or 15" woofers. At least, not unless you’re personally committed to high-end electrostatic-type speakers, such as those championed by Sanders Sound Systems. (In that event, please see

In addition to the cited decor benefit, separating the low bass from the upper bass presents a compelling aural upside. In a conventional setup, the main woofer and its power amplifier handle both signals, so there’s often some mild modulation blur of the upper bass or lower mids when the score calls for a sudden burst of big bass thunder. Routing that sound directly to the low-pass amplifiers, inside the self-powered subs, means the main speakers will now be unaffected. The main power amplifier will never see those low bass signals when they’re appreciably below the crossover notch. Eliminating this potential midrange modulation is one of the most vital rewards that you can claim when you add subwoofers and install an external active crossover. Some listeners feel that the midrange benefit is even more audible than the subwoofers’ bass extension. Your own impression might be a bit program-dependent in sensing these complementary improvements, but it’s clearly evident when the score fits**.

MODERNIZING CROSSOVERS—A further concern is that conventional full-range speakers impose the need for accurate driver-level crossover networks. Such filters are fussy to design and awkward to assemble. They’re wholly dependent on precisely defined R/L/C components that must pass high current signals to low impedance loads. Tight tolerance passive parts of this unique nature are rare—most have no other fundamental application in the scope of the electronics trade, so they’re often difficult to obtain in the exact values that are needed. The inevitable consequence of this difficulty is compromise, and compromise breeds inaccuracy. Even when they’re effectively designed and constructed, these high level crossovers often prove inadequate because they’re typically just first order or second order (-6dB or -12dB/octave) filters with gentle attenuation slopes. Full fourth order (-24dB/octave) passive crossover networks would be more suitable, but they become impractical (too complex, physically prohibitive) for high level (low impedance) applications.

The solution to this crossover dilemma is to move that function from its classic position, between the power amplifier outputs and the various driver inputs (where it must process high level signals), to an earlier point, prior to the power amplifier, where the components will see only lower line level signals.This preferred location assures ready access to lots of stable, tight tolerance R/L/C components of virtually any desired value. When combined with active op-amp circuitry it’s then possible to form highly selective Linkwitz-Riley type filters with full 4th order attenuation slopes. The penalty implicit with inserting the crossover in this line-level position is that a separate power amplifier will now be needed to connect each crossover output (high pass and low pass) directly to its designated driver. That means operating in “bi-amplifier” mode, a form of connection that confers useful advantages; e.g., better load (driver) damping; also the ability to independently dictate the signal amplitude sent to each power amplifier.

A fully external (meaning separately enclosed and powered) active crossover controller is invaluable when adding supplementary self-powered subwoofers. The active crossover’s high-pass outputs can feed the main stereo power amplifier + main speaker system, while its low-pass outputs feed the line inputs on the self-powered subs. (The active crossover thereby supersedes any built-in low-pass filtering that might be a part of the sub’s internal circuit, so the subs should then be operated in their selectable “bypass mode”.) This setup facilitates convenient adjustment of the “mains-to-subs” dominance (the relative output levels of the main speakers compared to the subs) from a single, central location. Without this crossover controller you’d need to crawl to each individual subwoofer and separately adjust their input sensitivity controls—and repeat that crawl every time you want to tweak the mains-to-subs settings or alter the relative channel balance.

An external active crossover controller with variable frequency capability will allow the user to position the crossover notch at a point that’s optimum for the main speakers in use. For most subwoofer setups, this will involve a setting that’s somewhere between ~ 76Hz and 100Hz. (Lower crossover frequencies are not advisable, regardless of the main speakers’ perceived bass capability.)

Loudspeaker systems with internal line-level active crossovers + self-powered class D amps are already in common use as near-field monitors; also as desk-top setups. Designs of this nature offering higher power output have also appeared, e.g., the “Kii Three”. Clearly, this trend will accelerate. We’re going to see lots of analog circuitry integrate with the loudspeaker, and some of the speaker makers are likely to merge with those that currently make power amplifiers. Of course, vacuum tube power amps—already a moribund species—will then fade forever. Ditto for big solid-state quasi-class A power amps and heavyweights that resemble engine blocks. Niche products will always exist, but it’s doubtful that those who make them will prosper and survive, so be wary about where you hitch your wagon.


*Paired stereo subwoofers (not a solo “shared bass” subwoofer) are essential for acoustic advantage; refer

**Re. “when the score fits”…is a phrase that brings to mind a subwoofer quirk that you need to know. Many (all?) of the companies making self-powered subs provide the useful ability to select automatic “signal sensing” as a means of activating the sub’s internal power amplifier; i.e., to auto-awaken the sub from its passive sleep state. In sleep mode, the sub stays on, but it dissipates minimal power until it perceives that it’s time to rumble. The sub then goes into active mode, and remains active until there’s no input signal for an appreciable duration, e.g., 20 or 30 minutes. An initial problem is sometimes evident with respect to the maker’s signal-sensing level. Bear in mind that the sub can only hear very low frequency signals because its line-level input path is through a low-pass filter. When there’s persistent heavy bass (as with virtually all pop music today), the sub will awaken quickly. But when the bass content is evident only where Mozart scored it, that sub might not awaken (go active) until you’re a third through an extended concerto. Classical music just doesn’t exhibit the same pounding bass line that persists with pop. Unfortunately, the folks that make subs think classical music is extinct, so they normally set the signal sensing to trigger at a higher (less sensitive) level than what’s optimum for classical format. In many cases the original factory setting is as much as 14dB to 16dB too high (too insensitive). So—when you buy a sub, communicate with your supplier. Have the maker set your subs to auto-activate when The Lark [is barely] Ascending. (I bow to Mr. Vaughan Williams.) If they fail to do this you’ll then need to return your subs to the source, and have a factory guy readjust the trip point (warranty return, maker’s expense). With all of the subs that I’ve seen, this setting is always an internal adjustment. Some subs might now make this tweak externally accessible, but internal-only is more logical because it’s a “set once” consideration, and external access invites misuse. Home-based DIY readjustment is definitely not feasible. The internal class D “plate amp” has complex multi-layer boards + tiny surface-mount (not “through-hole”) components, and that makes this simple task too risky when no schematic is at hand.

Be assured that there’s no downside related to increasing the subs’ activation sensitivity. When your external active crossover controller’s low pass outputs (to the subs’ inputs) cease sending a source signal (for the specified time lapse) to the subs, they’ll automatically revert to their dormant sleep mode, exactly as intended. The only instance in which this might not happen is if your crossover controller suddenly became intolerably noisy—with noise so annoying that you’d be fully absorbed with that fix before noting that the subs didn’t go to sleep.

It’s only natural that those who own big full-range floor-standing speakers would assume that the internal high level crossovers buried inside their costly purchase are both optimum and accurate. Regardless, their faith is likely misplaced. Accuracy is certain to be deficient in the case of passive networks that have accumulated appreciable use because passive high level crossover components drift. High level operation = high level stress. (Refer paper headed “On Crossing Over,” at

BG (April 2021)

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major (CD review)

Also, Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major. Gil Shaham, violin; Eric Jacobsen, The Knights. Canary Classics 5 060133 3000 14.

By John J. Puccio

If you’re not quite sure who Gil Shaham is, a word from his bio might help. Mr. Shaham “is one of the foremost violinists of our time; his flawless technique combined with his inimitable warmth and generosity of spirit has solidified his renown as an American master.” He’s also a Grammy Award-winner, Musical America’s “Instrumentalist of the Year,” and in demand throughout the world for concerto appearances with leading orchestras and conductors. Most important, he’s very good at what he does, a vibrant, creative, virtuosic entertainer.

On the present recording Mr. Shaham performs with The Knights. They, too, may be unfamiliar to some listeners, although they shouldn’t be because they have recorded quite a lot of material over the past few decades. They are a New York-based chamber orchestra formed by Eric and Colin Jacobsen while they were music students in the 1990’s. Originally, they called themselves “The Knights of the Many-Sided Table,” a rather unwieldy title they changed simply to The Knights. According to Wikipedpia, “Members of The Knights are composers, arrangers, singer-songwriters, and improvisers who bring a range of cultural influences to the group from baroque and classical performance practice to jazz and klezmer genres to pop and indie rock music.”

Together, Shaham and The Knights present two of the best-known violin concertos in the classical repertoire, those by Beethoven and Brahms, and they make them seem new all over again.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major in 1806, where it received an unsuccessful première and was practically shelved for the rest of the composer’s lifetime. He never published another violin concerto, so maybe he lost heart. The world would have to wait until 1844 to see the piece revived by violinist Joseph Joachim and conductor and composer Felix Mendelssohn, and, of course, it has been one of the leading concertos in the genre ever since.

Beethoven’s concerto begins with a lengthy and fairly laid-back introduction before the violin finally enters with a flourish. A slow, central Larghetto follows, and then a lively Rondo caps things off. When Shaham enters with the violin, he does so with a flourish. His musicianship is impeccable, a violin virtuoso of the highest order. More important, Shaham practically attacks the score, imbuing it with vigor and enthusiasm, yet losing nothing of the music’s inherent lyrical qualities. Along with the interpretation by Jascha Heifetz, Shaham’s performance is among the most exciting I’ve ever heard on record. Understand, however, that there are more subtle, more refined, more cultivated recordings available from the likes of Itzhak Perlman (EMI),  Henryk Szeryng (Philips), James Ehnes (Onyx), Vadim Repin (DG), Gidon Kremer (Teldec), Arthur Grumiaux (Pentatone), Rachel Barton Pine (Cedille), and others. But none of them tops this new release from Gil Shaham for total listener involvement and satisfaction.

Shaham takes the second-movement Larghetto at a smooth, leisurely, yet entirely engaging pace, providing all the beauty Beethoven has to offer. Finally, there’s that bouncy Rondo, Allegro, where Shaham shows us how playful he can get. It helps, too, to have so responsive a group as The Knights behind him, who complement him perfectly with their own heartiness and exuberance.

German composer and pianist Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote his Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 around the time he wrote his Second Symphony (1877), and the two pieces display a similar pastoral, bucolic atmosphere. However, the slightly later Violin Concerto sounds a little more rugged and robust, yet more lofty and aristocratic, almost as rustic as it is rhapsodic, making it something of an opposition in charms. What’s more, because Brahms grew up in a period where classicism was giving way to full-blown Romanticism, the composer sometimes found himself caught between the two competing styles, as we hear in this piece.

Although Brahms’s concerto is a little more complex and a bit more difficult to manage than Beethoven’s, Shaham negotiates it with an assuredness that comes from years of dedication and experience. His approach is flawless, cogent, and persuasive. As in the Beethoven, his playing is keen and ebullient, bringing a consummate joy to the music. These performances are laser focused yet spontaneous, pleasing in every regard. As with the Beethoven, you may find other recordings you like as well, but it’s hard to imagine one any more appealing on all counts, including the sound.

Producer Martha de Francisco and engineer Brian Losch recorded the music at LeFrak Hall, Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, Flushing, New York in August 2019. Because The Knights are a relatively small ensemble, they show up quite transparently on record. It helps, of course, that the recording engineer ensured that the sound wasn’t too close or too distant, and that nothing appeared unnaturally bright, heavy, dull, or soft. Everything is just about right, including some full-bodied drum work. When the violin enters, it’s just where we expect it to be, nicely centered yet agreeably integrated with the orchestra.


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

Brahms: Intermezzi (CD review)

Christophe Sirodeau. Melism MLS-CD-022.

By Bill Heck

Chrisophe Sirodeau is not a truly familiar name among classical music fans, but judging from this album, he should be better known. His recorded output is small, most notably discs of the works of Samuil Feinberg and Viktor Ullmann. (For the curious, I am not familiar with either of these composers, although a few quick listens suggest that further investigation is warranted.) It is perhaps a little surprising that Sirodeau’s first venture into the more often recorded “mainstream” is with the solo piano music of Johannes Brahms, but he has the chops to make the leap.

For those unfamiliar with the term, an “intermezzo” – plural “intermezzi” – was originally a short piece meant to be played between two longer, more substantial pieces. By Brahms’s time, intermezzi could be short, usually expressive pieces without reference to other works. And those unfamiliar with Brahms’s piano works, or those who do not look closely at the liner notes for this album, might suppose that Brahms composed a few sets of piano “intermezzi” and that Sirodeau is simply playing some or all of them in order, just as one might find on a recording of, say, Chopin’s Nocturnes. Not so on several counts: Brahms mixed in a few other forms, e.g., caprices, with the intermezzi in several opus numbers; Sirodeau includes only 14 of the 18 Intermezzi; and the artist has ordered them not chronologically, but in a sequence that he finds most appealing. So, let’s say that this release is rather more like a recital than a comprehensive survey, but a very focused recital.

In any case, most of works here are from a few years late in Brahms’s life: although four of the Intermezzi are part of Op.76 dating from 1878, the remaining 10heard here are from Op. 116 – 119, published in 1892 – 93. (Brahms’s last works were published in 1896, and he died in 1897.) After Op. 76, the days of large-scale orchestral compositions, such as symphonies and concertos, were long past; Brahms’s music had become leaner, more intensely concentrated. Thus, most of the pieces here are the works of a mature composer, giving the sense of a mature human reflecting on life.

Indeed, these works seem to me to be distilled Brahms, the essence of Brahms if you will. This is particularly true in all but the Op. 76 works: ornamentation is stripped away; the melodies can be downright simple – although sometimes deceptively so. (By the way, even on first hearing I easily identified, without peeking, several tracks as being from Op. 76: they are a little less distilled, with more notes that, had the pieces been composed later, might not have been there.)  Perhaps there is no better example than the ninth track on this disc, Andante Moderato in E-flat, the first of the three Intermezzi of Op. 117. The opening melody sounds like a child’s song or perhaps a lullaby; the left hand plays but a few simple chords. The development becomes more complex, but the melody is never far away; the piece ends by returning to nearly the same basic simplicity with which it started. At the same time, that melody is a lovely one, tugging at the emotions and sticking in the mind.

Meanwhile, the dominant mood through the entire series of works is reflective, introspective. Gone is the fire and passion of youth. (Try listening to this disk immediately after hearing the First Symphony or the First Piano Concerto; good heavens, what a contrast!) Gone are the complications and dense scoring of the orchestral works. There are frequent passages where the music can be played with two fingers, and many others where, even if more fingers are involved, we hear simple melodies and chords. But lest we forget, it still is Brahms, meaning that the musical intelligence shines through.

Sirodeau’s playing suits the music well, steering a course between literal but soulless readings on one hand and overdramatization on the other. No mawkish sentimentality here, thank you very much, but also no bored disengagement, no mechanical run-throughs. There is rubato aplenty, but not so much as to bring progress completely to a halt, a fault that I too often hear in some solo piano recordings, and one that drives me nuts. Phrasings seem to me always well-judged, and although the music does not lend itself to dynamic extremes, Sirodeau modulates the volume sufficiently to emphasize that which should be highlighted.

I did not locate an album comparable in the sense of being all intermezzi (regardless of order), but these works have been recorded numerous times in different groupings. A complete survey is impossible, but a few comparisons might give a general flavor.

Jonathan Plowwright has recorded a well-regarded series of albums of Brahms music for solo piano. As one example, returning to the Op. 117/1 piece mentioned above, Plowright is a bit quicker, clocking in at 5:02, compared to Sirodeau’s 5:34. Sirodeau lays a bit more emphasis on the lower notes (left hand), and there are slight differences in phrasing, with my overall impression being that Sirodeau is the more wistful, even dreamier in comparison – but hardly a startling difference. In that same work, Radu Lupu takes still longer at 5:46, and in comparison to Sirodeau, his dynamic control is even more noticeable – and incredible. His feather light touch in softer passages seems next to impossible: how can anyone press a piano key that softly and still produce any sound at all? More broadly, Lupu’s recording is a classic, truly expressive, but Sirodeau’s holds its own even so, at least in part because Decca’s 1980’s sound is a bit more congested than Melism’s 21st century version. Really, I can happily listen to any of these albums, reveling in the differences.

Speaking of sound, the Melism recording is indeed is very good. I found it just short of the very best in terms of focus, but that’s largely a quibble, nothing to be worried about at all.

If you are unfamiliar with this music, you surely ought to give Sirodeau’s album a listen. If you already have recordings of these works, you still might want to pick up this one, if only for the experience of hearing a series of well-played versions of most of the intermezzi in an intelligently chosen sequence. A comparison that comes to mind is that of a treasured book; just as one might return to that written work at just the right times, this album is on my list of performances to return to on quiet evenings when I want to hear music that will stay with me.


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

Sullivan: Ballet Music (CD review)

L’Ile Enchantee; Thespis. Andrew Penny, RTE Concert Orchestra. Naxos 8.555180.

By John J. Puccio

Many people today probably only know the British composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) from his collaborations with Sir William S. Gilbert, Sullivan writing the music and Gilbert the lyrics of their many hit light operas. But Sullivan’s work also includes operas, orchestral works, incidental music, songs, piano, and chamber pieces. Among them is the ballet presented here, L’Ile Enchantee (“The Enchanted Isle”), performed by Andrew Penny and Ireland’s RTE Concert Orchestra.

Sullivan wrote L’Ile Enchantee in 1861, and it was among his first orchestral compositions. He intended it as a divertissement, a light entertainment, a diversion, usually used during an interlude in a longer, more-serious work but here used at the end of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera La sonnambula at Covent Garden. The public received the music with acclaim, but the full score was subsequently lost.  We may consider Penny’s recording, in which Roderick Spencer and Selwyn Tillett have found and restored some previously lost passages, a world-première event.

The opening Prelude has a serious Mendelssohnian feeling to it. The music continues with a whole parade of light, melodic, and wholly delightful tunes. There’s even a brief Strauss-like waltz involved. The story line of the ballet is negligible, to say the least. A shipwrecked sailor washes ashore on an enchanted island filled with gnomes and fairies (and thus the Mendelssohn reference). He falls for the queen, and the rest is...well, music. I’m surprised this little ballet didn’t catch on the way so much of Sullivan’s other music has. Whatever, Maestro Penny appears to be on top of everything--from the rollicking inner sections to the sweetest, most-gentle ones, and his Irish orchestra seems to be enjoying itself as well.

Accompanying L’Ile Enchantee are some snippets of ballet music from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Thespis (1871), their first collaboration together. However, they never published the piece, and most of it is now lost, except for the fragments of ballet from it we get here.

Producer Murray Khouri made the album at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland in April 1992. Naxos originally released the disc in their full-priced Marco Polo line but now offer it at a substantially lower price (although if you insist on paying more, you can still find it new on the Marco Polo label). I liked the sound a lot. It’s among the more natural recordings I’ve heard lately, even though Naxos recorded it some thirty years ago (or perhaps because they recorded it so long ago). The recording displays good depth, with more than adequate dynamics and frequency range. And all without a hint of brightness or edge.


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

John Luther Adams: The Become Trilogy (CD and book review)

Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony. Cantaloupe CA21161 (3-disc set).
Also, Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York, 2020. 194 pp. ISBN: 978-0-374-26462-8.

By Karl W. Nehring

Just to be perfectly clear, the composer of the Become Trilogy is the American composer John Luther Adams (b. 1953), who is not the same person as the American composer John Adams (b. 1947), who is famous for compositions such as his opera Nixon in China and his orchestral showpiece Short Ride in a Fast Machine. John Adams is based in California, while John Luther Adams was long based in Alaska, where he lived from 1978 to 2014. He now resides in the American Southwest.

John Luther Adams received widespread attention for the first of the three compositions included in this three-CD boxed set, Become Ocean, which was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music. It is a powerful piece, deep and brooding and churning, capturing the energy and mystery of the ocean depths. In his liner notes, Adams explains that, “Become Ocean is titled after a mesostic poem that John Cage wrote in honor of Lou Harrison. Likening Harrison’s music to a river in delta, Cage wrote:

            LiStening to it
    we becOme

Adams goes on to explain that “in Become Ocean a full symphony orchestra is deployed in three different ensembles, separated as widely as possible. Each of these groups has its own distinctive instrumental and harmonic colorations, each moving in its own tempo.” Lest his talk of three ensembles playing in three tempos immediately scare you off, let me assure you that although Become Ocean has a dense, complex sound, it does not have a dissonant, chaotic, forbidding sound. Indeed, the piece has a majesty to it that can truly draw the listener in. It conveys a sense of elemental power that goes beyond waves on the surface to reveal the force of the mighty currents below and the astonishing force of the tides. Debussy’s La Mer gives us a vivid portrait of the ocean as seen from without; Adams has a different goal in mind. “I composed Become Ocean on the edge of the Pacific, in Mexico, where my wife and I lived for most of a decade. Yet from time to time when people ask me: ‘Which ocean is it?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Your ocean…’ Become Ocean is a meditation on the deep and mysterious tides of existence.”  The piece was something of a sensation when it was originally released, perhaps not quite to the scale of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 (here) but still quite noteworthy for a classical music release.

The remaining two compositions in the trilogy Become River and Become Desert, were recorded in 2018. Reflecting on the kind of music he was trying to create in the works that make up this trilogy, Adams notes that “Stravinsky remarked that music is the sole domain in which we fully realize the present. Yet so much orchestral music is continually becoming—unfolding in narrative arcs, like novels or movies… The pieces of the Become trilogy are not symphonic studies about rivers, deserts, or the sea. This is music that aspires to the condition of place. The titles are not ‘Becoming…’. They’re ‘Become…’. The invitation is for you, the listener, to enter into the music, to lose yourself, and perhaps to discover oceans, deserts, and rivers of your own.”

Adams observes that he has known many rivers throughout his life, and that for a good part of his life he lived in the Tanana River basin in Alaska, of which he notes that “a musical evocation of the Tanana would have to be a long piece, for a large orchestra. Become River is shorter, and scored for a smaller orchestra—an orchestra turned upside down. Rather than their usual position near the edge of the stage, the violins are seated far upstage and elevated. The entire assembly is raked, from high to low sounds. Over the course of twenty minutes, the music flows downstream in three interlocking streams moving at different tempos, running to the sea.” Once again that description might make the music sound forbidding, or even unlistenable, but in truth, Become River is actually quite beguiling. The various elements of the sound -- tinkling percussion, swirling strings, shifting tones from the brass and woodwinds—all combine in the imagination to offer a striking impression of a river, and if you let yourself go as you listen, you truly can begin to feel in some sense becoming at least a wee bit riverish… Seriously, though, it is a remarkable composition, a 21st-century Die Moldau.

Adams notes of the final piece of the trilogy that “Become Desert completes this trilogy that I didn’t set out to write. In all three of these works, space is a fundamental compositional element. I’m not speaking only of poetic or metaphorical space, but also of the physical space of the musical ensemble, and the acoustical space in which the music is heard. At forty-two minutes, Become Desert is the same length as Become Ocean. But it encompasses an even larger musical space. Five different ensembles are stationed around the audience… In the desert, as Octavio Paz observes: ‘That which is not stone is light.’ Here, you can ‘close your eyes and listen to the singing of the light.’ This image led me to realize that Become Desert needed to include human voices. The chorus sings a single word, throughout: Luz (the Spanish word for ‘light’).” As you might expect, there is less sense of motion in this music, although there is still a great sense of energy. The subtle contribution of the voices produces a different texture to this music that further sets it apart from the two water-based members of the trilogy. Of the three compositions, I found it the hardest to get into at first, but upon repeated listening, I came to really appreciate it. As with the other two pieces, it rewards concentrated listening, but it can also be enjoyed by just closing your eyes and letting the sound take you away.

Speaking of sound, I of course listened in stereo, which is quite excellent, but there are also 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos mixes of all three compositions available (in digital format only). That could be quite interesting, both sonically and psychologically. Unfortunately, without (a) wideband internet access (one of the few drawbacks of my rural lifestyle) or (b) a 5.1 or Dolby Atmos system, I am unable to report on what particular sonic and/or spiritual bliss that immersive listening experience might entail, alas.

In his memoir Silences So Deep, Adams writes that “Music is my way of understanding the world, of knowing where I am and how I fit in. An unsettled childhood left me with a gnawing, inarticulate hunger to find my real home and family—the place to which I would truly belong, and the people with whom I would share ties deeper than blood. In Alaska—where I lived for four decades—I found both.” We learn how he came to find friendship, a cabin in the wilderness with no running water, a role as a timpanist in the Fairbanks Symphony, and a gig as a music director and program host for a local NPR radio station. We read about how inspiration came to him for some of his early musical compositions, and how he grew in his conception of music and composition. He writes of friendships and how they influenced him, of how observing skilled craftsmen such as masons and carpenters influenced his approach to composing music.

Eventually, though, as he felt both the climate and his life inevitably changing, he chose to leave Alaska. He writes that “as Cindy and I got a little older and as the pristine ferocity of the cold began to diminish, the subarctic winter darkness became more challenging. We began spending more and more time in a house on the Pacific coast of Baja California… In that house, over the next decade or so, I would compose Canticles of the Holy Wind, Become River, Become Ocean, and Become Desert. In the Become trilogy, I sought to bring my ideal of an entire piece of music as a single, rich, complex sonority to its fullest realization.”

Silences So Deep is an enjoyable book that can stand on its own apart from Adams’s music. However, if you have enjoyed the music of John Luther Adams, whether from one or all of his Become trilogy compositions or some of his many other fine works, then this is a book that you will most likely truly enjoy.


Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht (SACD review)

Also, Lehar: Fieber; Fried: Verklarte Nacht; Korngold: Lieder des Abschieds. Christine Rice, mezzo-soprano; Stuart Skelton, tenor; Edward Gardner, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Chandos CHSA 5243.

By John J. Puccio

“Two people walk through a leafless frosty copse,
the moon tags along and draws their gaze.
He grasps her about her strong hips.
Their breath is mingling in the air.
Two people walk through a brightly shining night.”

--Richard Dehmel, “Transfigured Night,”

Those are the opening and closing lines of the poem “Verklarte Nach” by German poet and writer Richard Dehmel (1863-1920). Dehmel’s poems inspired such composers as such as Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Oskar Fried, Alma Mahler, Anton Webern, Ignatz Waghalter, Carl Orff, and Kurt Weill to set them to music. On the present album we have four composers whom Dehmel inspired in one way or another: Arnold Schoenberg, Oskar Fried, Franz Lehar, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Maestro Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra do the honors, with tenor Stuart Skelton lending his voice to Lehar’s Fieber and both Skelton and mezzo-soprano Christine Rice singing in Fried’s Verklarte Nacht.

First up on the program is Fieber (“Fever,” 1915), a short piece by Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar (1870-1948). Although Lehar was a contemporary of Schoenberg, his music is more associated with that of operetta, and the link between him and Dehmel’s poem is tenuous at best. Lehar’s tone poem (as he called it) is a musical tribute to his younger brother who lay in hospital at the time from wounds received in the early going of the First World War. Lehar set the words of poet Erwin Weill to music, and they do bear resemblance in tone to Dehmel’s poem. The music is very dramatic, perhaps even melodramatic, and between bouts of seriousness, it also betrays Lehar’s light-opera leanings. Tenor Stuart Skelton sings it well, and Gardner and the orchestra accompany him unobtrusively.

Next up is Verklarte Nacht (“Transfigured Night,” 1901), another short work, this one by German conductor and composer Oskar Fried (1871-1941). Although Schoenberg wrote his musical setting for Dehmel’s poem a couple of years earlier, he didn’t see it performed until 1902, a full year after Fried’s operatic, vocal-instrumental version appeared. Fried’s piece is pretty much a musical setting of the whole Dehmel poem, where tenor Skelton is joined by soprano Christine Rice. I found it rather forgettable, but listeners more attuned to opera than I am may enjoy its sentiment. There is no question that everyone involved performs it well.

Then we get the centerpiece of the album, Verklarte Nacht by Austrian-born composer, writer, and painter Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951). He originally wrote it for string sextet but arranged a string orchestra version in 1917, which we have here. The work is pretty well known, and one can find it recorded by practically every major conductor in the world. Later in life, Schoenberg would credit not only Dehmel’s poem for his inspiration but Brahms and Mahler as well. Interestingly, both the poem and Schoenberg’s music were condemned back in the day for their frank sexuality. Maybe that’s why they became so famous. In any case, Gardner provides us with a notably expressive presentation of the score. While his reading is not so glamorized or Romanticized as Karajan’s nor so incisive as Stokowski’s--older recordings that easily come to mind--it gets to the heart of the music’s passion and turmoil in perhaps more concise terms. Of course, it’s hard to match the sheer sensuality of the Berlin strings. Still, Gardner well captures the extremes of sadness, reflection, and forgiveness expressed in the poem, and without exaggeration. It’s true that a few listeners may miss some of Schoenberg’s lush harmonies here, which tend to get a little lost in the unfolding of the story, but Gardner makes up for it with the lucidity of his musical storytelling.

The final work on the agenda is Lieder des Abschieds (“Songs of Farewell,” 1920-21) by Austrian-born composer and conductor Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). Korngold may be better recognized today for his film scores (Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood) but he wrote a large body of serious classical music as well, including these four vocal settings for tenor and orchestra. Again the connection to Dehmel’s poem is slender at best, but inside the booklet notes we find the heading “German Orchestral Songs/Verklate Nacht” so maybe that explains it. Whatever, tenor Stuart Skelton and Maestro’s Gardner manage to convey a lovely, poignant mood in the piece, with the orchestra keeping a safe distance in the more sensitive and affecting parts.

Producer Brian Pidgeon and engineer Ralph Couzens recorded the music at Phoenix Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, England in March 2020. They made it for hybrid SACD; that is, playback in 2-channel stereo via a regular CD player and 2-channel and multichannel via an SACD player. I listened in 2-channel SACD.

Clearly, what Chandos Records were going for here was as natural a sound as possible, with no bright edginess accompanying any sort pretense to audiophile clarity. Yet, the sound is quite clear and natural, so I’d say they succeeded, even though some listeners not used to such things may think it’s too soft for their taste. The sound is also moderately dynamic, evident from the low initial volume. Trust me: It gets plenty loud enough as it goes along, the dynamic range being relatively wide. There is also good orchestral depth and a broad and well-balanced frequency response.


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

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa