Stretching the Symphony (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

At least for me, the symphony is the pinnacle of orchestral music. Yes, there are wonderful tone poems, overtures, ballets, concertos, incidental music, and such, but by golly, the symphony is where it’s at. Although symphonies come in many shapes and sizes, most classical music fans tend to think of the typical symphony as having four movements: an opening movement set in sonata form; a brief, often lighthearted scherzo; a slow movement, more serious, reflective, perhaps even somber; and then a finale that ramps up the energy level and often builds to some sort of rousing finish. Throughout the piece, the listener feels as if she is being led along some more or less clearly defined tonal path, with perhaps some twist and turns but never a sense of being lost. The musical journey is comfortable, largely because it is so familiar. Four movements, clearly defined format, familiar sounds…

What we have here are two striking symphonies that stretch the usual form of the symphony, one by a very well-known composer and the other by a composer of whom many classical music fans have never heard. One is unusual in having five movements, the other is all in one movement. Both are large-scale, intense, emotionally demanding works that are the antithesis of hummable background music. Rest assured, however, that neither work employs extreme dissonance or other such sonic shenanigans to assault the senses. Yes, they are demanding works, but they both can be rewarding to the listener with the patience and ambition to give them a fair hearing.

Mahler: Symphony No. 10 (Performing version by Deryck Cooke). Osmo Vänskä, Minnesota Orchestra. BIS-2396 SACD.

It must be said at the outset that even to call this a recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 is in itself a bit of a stretch. Only the opening Adagio movement was actually completed by Mahler before his death in 1911, and several noted Mahler conductors such as Bernstein, Solti, Abravanel, and Haitink would perform only that movement, which, by the way, is a powerful musical statement fully capable making a powerful musical statement all by itself over its 20+ minutes. Since then, several composers have taken it upon themselves to “complete” the symphony, expanding upon the sketches that Mahler left behind. I have over the years listened to several of these versions and have come to two conclusions. First, more often than not, I am content to listen to the first movement Adagio on its own, the movement that was completed by Mahler himself and is left by and large largely untouched throughout the various performing editions of the work by various composers and conductors. Second, of the various versions out there, my preferred version is the one employed on this recording, that by the late Mahler scholar Deryck Cooke (1919-1976). As the liner notes point put, “Cooke repeatedly insisted that his meticulously produced edition (used for the present recording) was not a ‘completion’ of the symphony (something which only Mahler would ever have been able to accomplish), but rather a functional presentation of the materials as Mahler left them, rendered performable in the full knowledge that Mahler would likely have made many revisions to the score on the way to its ultimate completion.”

In the past, I have enjoyed some fine recordings of Cooke’s completion, including an older and now largely forgotten but nonetheless excellent version by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eliahu Inbal conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, and more recently, Thomas Dausgaard with the Seattle Symphony. And now we have this fine new version by the Minnesota Orchestra under the baton of Osmo Vänskä, whose previous BIS recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 was highly regarded in Classical Candor by both JJP and me. Like that previous recording, this new release is both splendidly played and splendidly recorded (I listened to the CD and two-channel SACD layers; there is also a 5.0 surround layer). Vänskä tends towards slower tempos and less exuberant peaks of volume in some of the big climaxes; the net result is an impression of great transparency, but at times, especially in the opening Adagio, I found myself missing the sense of urgency that conductors such as Chailly, Bernstein, and Dausgaard have elicited from the score. Nevertheless, for the work as a whole, this new BIS release is as fine a version as you will find on the market. It is probably the best recommendation possible for those listeners who are coming to this work for the first time, for it presents what is arguably the most responsible representation of Mahler’s unfinished score in an interpretation and performance that brings out every phrase without exaggeration or editorializing, all presented in state-of-the-art-sound by the BIS recording team.

Christopher Tyler Nickel: Symphony No. 2. Clyde Mitchell, Northwest Sinfonia. AVIE AV2456.

My guess would be that most readers of this blog are unfamiliar with the music of Canadian compost Christopher Tyler Nickel (b. 1978). I will readily confess that I had never heard of neither composer Nickel, conductor Mitchell, nor the Northwest Sinfonia before reading the press release for this recording. From the booklet included with the CD we learn that Nickel has composed not just for the concert hall, but also for film and television (who knows, we may well have previously heard some of his music without even realizing it…). Mitchell has conducted orchestras throughout the world and is a frequent guest conductor at orchestras throughout Canada as well as being an active promoter of music education. The Northwest Sinfonia is a recording orchestra, a kind of “all-star” ensemble (along the lines of the English Sinfonia, which has made some fine recordings of recently reviewed in Classical Candor here and here) that draws together musicians from the Seattle, Vancouver, Oregon, San Francisco, and other orchestras as circumstances permit to record in the St. Thomas Chapel at Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. The engineers have done an excellent job of recording the orchestra in this venue, the resulting sound quality being full-range, recorded a bit closer than we have begun being accustomed to in this age of so many live concert recordings, which this is not.

Having now listened to the Nickel Symphony No. 2 numerous times and having come to enjoy and appreciate it more and more with each listening, I hope I can persuade at least some of our good readers to likewise make their acquaintance with these talented folks though this compelling recording of an intensely focused and powerful 53-minute work. A line on the back cover of the CD case sums up the symphony as “a “vast, deep, emotionally demanding work.” and I would have to say that I pretty much agree with that assessment. In many ways I find it reminiscent of some of the brooding movements of Shostakovich, such as the opening movements of his Symphonies Nos. 8 and 10. That is not so much to say that Nickel sounds musically like some kind of clone of the Russian master, but rather that this work brings the listener into that same kind of, yes, vast and deeply involving emotional soundworld. With a total time a mere one second shy of 53 minutes, that single movement is marked “Grave - Andante - Grave - Mysterioso - Fatalistically - Grave.  That might make it sound as though this is depressing music; however, that is not the case. Serious music, yes, but not depressing. There are motifs that recur throughout the work in various instrumental guises with varying levels of emphasis and emotional intensity. All sections of the orchestra get their chance to contribute, but the work sounds like an organic whole, all of one piece, rather than a parade of virtuoso exhibitions. Although it in a sense serves as a fine showcase for the orchestra, it in no sense sounds like a concerto for orchestra. In the end, listening to it is a rewarding experience, and although it is an intense experience, it can be an uplifting, energizing experience. A stretching experience, if you will.


Schumann: Symphonies No. 1 “Spring” & No. 2 (SACD review)

Lawrence Foster, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Pentatone PTC 5186 326.

By John J. Puccio

During his relatively short lifetime, German composer and pianist Robert Schumann (1810-1856) managed to write four symphonies, one opera, and any number of piano works; and the symphonies didn’t come into being until late in the composer’s career. They became phenomenally successful and are now firmly entrenched in the basic classical repertoire. Maestro Lawrence Foster recorded all four of the symphonies during live performances in 2007 with the Czech Philharmonic, and we have them on two separate Pentatone SACD releases, the first one reviewed here.

Schumann wrote his Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38 “Spring” in 1841, shortly after he married Clara Wieck, herself a noted pianist and composer; and Felix Mendelssohn conducted the première. How’s that for help? As to its content, Schumann wrote to conductor Wilhelm Taubert saying, “Could you breathe a little of the longing for spring into your orchestra as they play? That was what was most in my mind when I wrote the symphony.... I would like the music to suggest the world’s turning green, perhaps with a butterfly hovering in the air, and then, in the Allegro, to show how everything to do with spring is coming alive...”

It's hard to knock anything by Schumann, especially where the "Spring" Symphony is concerned, but I'll do it anyway. Schumann's First Symphony should be a jubilant, ebullient, zestfully intoxicating work that inspires in listeners the very best feelings of spring's new life and new hope. Indeed, under conductor Lawrence Foster and the Czech Philharmonic, it does at least some of this. The interpretation is relatively quick paced and reasonably quick witted, yet it loses some of its joy in Foster’s fairly unyielding direction. While everything is neatly in place, the ebb and flow of the music is somewhat stiff, lacking the graceful, fluid continuity we hear from conductors like Wolfgang Sawallisch and Rafael Kubelik. So, even though I found Foster's reading spirited and lively enough, I didn’t always find it too characterful.

Almost half a dozen years went by before Schumann would write his Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 in 1846. (In between time, he also completed the original version of what he would later publish as his Symphony No. 4.) Although Schumann was in poor health when he composed No. 2, the tone of the work is spiritually uplifting. Critics have praised the piece as sounding like a Beethovenian “triumph over fate/pessimism,” which is how Beethoven earlier had described himself.

The Symphony No. 2 begins with a measured introduction, giving way to a moderately paced Allegro that becomes more tumultuous as it proceeds. A Scherzo follows, brisk and playful, hinting something of the Baroque and possibly of Bach. Next is a slow and expressive Adagio, taking on the nature of an elegy. Then Schumann wraps things up with a very lively (“molto vivace”) Allegro that borrows something from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony “Ode to Joy.”

Maestro Foster seems to loosen up more in the Second Symphony, and the music flows more easily, more freely. Maybe Foster just took time to warm up. It’s also possible that because the music of No. 2 appears more mature, more serious than the tenor of No. 1, Foster found it more approachable, more consistent with his generally straightforward manner. Whatever, I enjoyed Foster’s handling of No. 2 more than I did his reading of No. 1.

Recording producer Job Maarse and recording engineer Matthijs Ruijter recorded the album live at the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague in October 2007. The disc is in hybrid SACD, meaning you can listen in two-channel or multichannel from an SACD player or in ordinary two-channel from any ordinary CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD from a Sony SACD player.

Pentatone first released the disc in 2008, and I suppose it has done well enough for them that they continue to offer it. For live sound, it’s pretty good, but it does have a bit too much hall reverberation for ultimate clarity. At least, it is mercifully free of audience noise and applause, which is remarkable given that the engineer did not mike it too closely. The perspective is from a modest distance, and the sound comes through refreshingly natural, if a tad soft for my liking. Dynamics are good, as we might expect from an SACD, but not exceedingly so, and frequency extremes are more than adequate.

For comparison purposes, I put on the aforementioned performance by Sawallisch and the Dresden Staatskapelle (EMI) as well as one by Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra (also on EMI), recordings made thirty and forty years earlier. Both of them sounded better to my ears than the Foster disc (with the older Klemperer recording sounding the best by far), and both of the older performances seemed more colorful than Foster’s in their delineation of the music’s varying moods. I know a lot of folks also rave about Karajan’s recordings on DG, and while I admit they are beautifully played, I have never been able to adjust to the sound of their over-pronounced high-end, which spoils my enjoyment of the music.

In the end, I'd say if you have to have these symphonies in modern, multichannel, digital surround sound, the Pentatone is going to be one of your better choices. However, if you're after the best performances, the two EMI sets I mentioned (Sawallisch and Klemperer) and others by Zinman (Arte Nova), Goodman (RCA, on period instruments), Kubelik (Sony), Muti (EMI), Gardiner (DG), and Dausgaard (BIS) are probably surer bets.


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

Classical Music News of the Week, May 8, 2021

Juan Perez Floristan Wins the 2021 Rubinstein Piano Competition
Juan Perez Floristan from Spain is the winner of the Rubinstein Piano Competition, which culminated today (Monday, May 3) at the Tel Aviv Charles Bronfman Auditorium (home of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which played in today's finals). A total of six competitors, from the initial 32, had made it through to the final rounds.

Second place went to Shiori Kuwahara from Japan, with third place going to Cunmo Yin from China.

With a thousand audience members in the hall and many more watching from around the world online, the finalists had each over the past few days played piano quintets, classical concertos with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem and, finally, romantic concertos with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The prize for first place was a gold medal with a portrait of Rubinstein illustrated by Picasso, a cash prize of $40,000, and many guaranteed engagements internationally. Second prize is a silver medal and $20,000; third place is a bronze medal and $10,000). All the other finalists win $6,000 each.

For details, visit

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Pivot Arts Festival Safely Returns to In-Person Events
Pivot Arts, a hub for adventurous, multidisciplinary performance, announces “Reimagining Utopia,” the ninth annual Pivot Arts Festival featuring almost entirely world premieres, May 21–June 6, 2021 at several indoor and outdoor performance spaces. Following the all-virtual 2020 Festival, Pivot Arts this year plans to bring together audiences and artists safely and in observance of public health protocols. Tickets are on sale April 30 at

Pivot Arts selected 12 artists and companies to create small, live works of theatre, dance and/or music, as well as video installations, inspired by this year’s theme, “Reimagining Utopia.” Pivot asked the artists to think about a better world post-pandemic and respond to the global health crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. Audience members will also have the opportunity to respond with their visions of a brighter future and more just and equitable society.

The 2021 Pivot Arts Festival “Reimagining Utopia” takes place May 21–June 6 at multiple indoor and outdoor locations. Tickets at

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Josh Groban to Perform at YPC's Virtual Spring Gala
Monday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. EDT

What do Grammy, Tony, and Emmy Award-nominated singer, songwriter, and actor Josh Groban and famed pianist and Lang Lang have in common? They will be joining 600 YPC young artists at their Virtual Spring Gala, along with guest appearances by Emmy Award-winning actor, writer, and director Michael Imperioli, Broadway and film actor and singer Norm Lewis, Broadway actress, singer, and YPC alum Aneesa Folds, and a surprise special appearance by an Oscar, Golden Globe, and two-time Emmy Award-winning artist.

Join these celebrated performers in honoring and supporting YPC and our choristers by being a part of the event of the year!

For complete information, visit

--Young People’s Chorus of New York City

SF Girls Chorus Presents The Line Between
San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) concludes its 2020-2021 season with three drive-in showings of The Line Between on Saturday, May 29, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and Thursday, June 3, 2021 at 6:30 p.m., at Fort Mason FLIX.

Reflecting on a year of adventurous collaborative projects across different art forms, SFGC brings together hundreds of choral singers from all levels of the SFGC Chorus School, as well as the Premier Ensemble, for a special film presentation that includes two world premieres: The Line Between by SFGC alum Cava Menzies, commissioned by SFGC and featuring Spring 2021 Virtual Artists-in-Residence Roomful of Teeth; and an excerpt from The Future is Bright by Chorus School Composer-in-Residence Susie Ibarra, which will receive its official premiere during the 2021-2022 season. Also featured on the program is an excerpt from Music for Hard Times by Danny Clay, in collaboration with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and The Living Earth Show.

For more information, visit

--Brenden Guy PR

Soprano Laura Strickling Announces "The 40@40 Project"
In November 2019, Ms. Strickling made the realization that, while she’d been asked to premiere countless works over the course of her career, she’d never actively commissioned any. Since the collaborative relationship between singer and composer is one of her favorite aspects of the work, Laura decided to aim high -- to commission 40 new songs as a 40th birthday present to herself. The project aim quickly developed into, “40 songs by 40 composers,” and has since grown beyond its original scope to include performances, recordings, and a published anthology of all of the commissioned works. The resulting songs have been beyond exciting in their quality and variety.

“The 40@40 Project is the beginning of a personal mission to commission with intentionality and to encourage and help other performing musicians (or music lovers!) to do the same.”

For more information, please visit

--Schwalbe & Partners

Aizuri Quartet in Two Digital Concerts
Baryshnikov Arts Center and Tippet Rise Art Center co-present the Aizuri Quartet in two digital concerts premiering on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 3PM MT/5PM ET and Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 3PM MT/5PM ET at and The two-part program, “What’s Past is Prologue,” features music spanning 10 centuries, all by female composers. A film by director Tristan Cook with audio engineer Noriko Okabe artfully captures Aizuri Quartet performing these works on March 4, 2021 at the studio of sculptor Joel Shapiro in Long Island City, New York. Both concert films will be free and available on-demand for two weeks following the premiere date.

Each Concert Available to Stream for Free for Two Weeks at

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Chamber Music Society Returns to Alice Tully Hall
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) announces its long-awaited return to live concerts in Alice Tully Hall for the 2021-2022 season with 30 concerts, comprising more than 94 unique works, 14 of which have never before been presented by CMS on the Alice Tully Hall stage. A large part of the season is dedicated to reviving almost all of the concerts that would otherwise have been lost due to the pandemic. CMS made the commitment to both artists and audiences to bring those concerts to fruition in a later season, and is proud to be offering them over the coming months.

Learn the details here:

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Appoints Davone Tines first Creative Partner
On the heels of its Tarik O'Regan Composer-in-Residence announcement, which breaks new ground in the early music world, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (PBO) takes another bold step into the future with the appointment of bass-baritone Davone Tines as the organization’s first-ever Creative Partner.

Tines most recently starred in PBO’s critically acclaimed, sold-out run of Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. The Los Angeles Times was ecstatic in its praise, using words such as extraordinary, gripping, overwhelming, and terrifying to describe him. His PBO residency will include appearances in Philharmonia's virtual and onstage productions; however what makes it unique goes way beyond performing. Tines will play a key role behind the scenes, working side-by-side with administrative staff; attending board, strategic planning, and governance meetings; and producing shows and curating new series. He will engage with PBO stakeholders at all levels of the organization to explore the role of a major historically-informed ensemble in the 21st century that not only performs and presents music from the Baroque, but older and new repertoire, including opera.

For more information, visit

--Aleba Gartner, Aleba & Co.

Moab Music Festival 29th Live Season
Utah’s Moab Music Festival announces an inspiring and powerful 2021 slate of events, running from August 30 through September 16. Whether audiences need a retreat or a reboot after a complicated year, the fabled town filled with charming shops and restaurants, a 3-diamond spa, a top-notch winery, surrounded by Southeast Utah’s ruggedly stunning desert, and some of America’s best hiking, biking, and jeep trails, is the perfect place to safely spread out and enjoy MMF’s trademark world-class live music experiences. The 2020 Festival was one of the only events in the U.S. to welcome live audiences, and in 2021, it will again be live and continue to follow all local, state, and national health and safety guidelines, continuing its commitment to the health and safety of its patrons, artists, and staff as its top priority.

The centerpiece of the 29th season is the launch of its Commissioning Club with the World Premiere of a work by Kenji Bunch for narrator George Takei and chamber ensemble about Japanese American Confinement in America on Saturday, September 4th. Other programs bring patrons to an array of outdoor venues along the Colorado River, local ranches, on musical hikes, rafting adventures, and in intimate (outdoor) gatherings, where concert goers will hear world-class performances surrounded by the majestic sky and blazing red rock cliffs as the quintessential backdrop for the musical ride of a lifetime.

For complete information, visit

--Elizabeth Dworkin, Dworkin & Company

Young Concert Artists to Celebrate 60th Anniversary
Young Concert Artists (YCA) announces programming for their 60th Anniversary Gala, to be broadcast on May 20 from the DiMenna Center for Classical Music. The gala will feature an evening of performances in celebration of the organization's 60-year history of fostering and developing the next generation of talented young artists. Founded by Susan Wadsworth in 1961, who retired in 2019 and passed the leadership to alumnus and composer Daniel Kellogg, YCA has grown both its roster and its impact, providing artists with performance opportunities, promotional and marketing services, and extensive professional development tools.

Musical performers at the event include some of YCA’s most prominent alumni such as Emanuel Ax, Pinchas Zukerman, Anne-Marie McDermott, and Sasha Cooke, alongside the young stars of their present roster that include Zlatomir Fung, Anthony Trionfo, Albert Cano Smit, and more. Performances include works by Mendelssohn, Dvorák, and Chopin, as well as pieces by YCA composers Mason Bates, Andrew Norman, and Daniel Kellogg.

For more information, visit

--Andrew Ousley, Unison Media

Berkeley Symphony Reschedules Episode Two of "REAL Berkeley"
Berkeley Symphony announced today that the second episode of REAL Berkeley, a new four-episode virtual film series that launched in March, has been rescheduled for release on Sunday, May 23 at 4:00 p.m. exactly one week after its previously planned release date. The upcoming episode, entitled “Edgy Art,” will showcase exhibits and artwork from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) alongside chamber works by Jessie Montgomery, Florence Price, Michael Daugherty, and Olivier Messiaen.

A collaboration between Berkeley Symphony and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), “Edgy Art” will combine a selection of artwork and exhibits currently on display at BAMPFA with chamber music performed by Berkeley Symphony musicians. BAMPFA Director Julie Rodrigues Widholm will guest curate the episode, taking audiences on a virtual tour of both Rosie Lee Tomkins: A Retrospective, one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of Tomkins’s work to date, and Edie Fake’s Affordable Housing for Trans Elders, BAMPFA’s most recent commission for its Art Wall. Filmed on location, musicians from Berkeley Symphony will perform a selection of chamber works including the second movement from Florence Price’s String Quartet in G Major, Messiaen’s Appel Interstellaire for solo horn, Michael Daugherty’s Diamond in the Rough for violin, viola, and percussion, and Jessie Montgomery’s Strum for string quartet.

All episodes of REAL Berkeley will be streamed free of charge on the Berkeley Symphony YouTube channel and will remain available for viewing after the initial release date. Full details for episodes three and four will be announced later this month.

For more information, please visit

--Brenden Guy PR

What's Streaming: Classical (Week of May 10-16)
Friday, May 14 at 8:00 p.m. CT:
Minnesota Orchestra and Music Director Osmo Vänskä perform music to honor victims of gun violence.

Sunday, May 16 at 4:00 p.m. ET:
The Gilmore's Virtual Rising Stars series presents Avery Gagliano performing works by Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, and Dett.

--Shuman Associates

Minnesota Orchestra to Present Concerts of Remembrance and Reflection
Minnesota Orchestra and Music Director Osmo Vänskä will perform two concerts on Friday, May 14 and Friday, May 28 that have been programmed in response to the turbulence in Minneapolis and the world over the past year, particularly with regard to issues of racial equity and police violence against Black Americans. Both concerts will be televised live on Twin Cities PBS (TPT); broadcast live on YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio; and streamed live online for free at at 8:00 p.m. CT.

--Shuman Associates

PARMA Announces 2021 Live Stage Line Up
Since its launch in March 2020, the PARMA Live Stage has streamed nearly 50 concerts for artists to present their craft in an age of social distancing. A myriad of piano concertos, symphonies, string quartets, and other music ensembles have been showcased, and will continue through 2021.

Learn more:

PARMA Recordings

Robert Trevino Named Principal Guest Conductor of RAI National Symphony Orchestra
The Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai - the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, popularly known as 'RAI Torino' or simply 'the RAI' - has announced the appointment of Robert Trevino as their new Principal Guest Conductor, for an initial period of three years, starting in the 2021/22 season. One of Italy's leading orchestras, RAI Torino has regularly invited the young American conductor as a guest artist during recent seasons, in a close and deepening relationship.

The admiration is mutual. Says Trevino, "Since the first moment I made music with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai, in Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, it was evident that we had a mutual understanding of our purpose as artists, to communicate and give expression to the greatest of emotions we all feel. Since then I have looked forward to every visit to make music with them in beautiful Turin, and every time it has been just as wonderful an experience. It feels like a natural and beautiful continuation of a deepening relationship, and therefore I am honored to accept this position of Principal Guest Conductor with the RAI."

--James Inverne Music Consultancy

Award-Winning iSing Silicon Valley Girlchoir Spring Concert
iSing Silicon Valley is pleased to announce its eighth annual Spring Concert, which will premiere on Saturday, May 22, at 4:30pm PT/7:30pm ET on YouTube (free). “Choosing Harmony” features 250 iSing girls joined by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Amaranth Quartet, and other guest artists.

“Choosing Harmony” follows the huge success of iSing’s first virtual concert, Holidays@Home, which expanded its audience by a factor of seven, with nearly 7,000 views to date from around the world. iSing is among the many choral organizations that have been pressed into a new relationship with technology by the pandemic. iSing has maximized the advantages of the digital platform for this final virtual concert of the season, offering new commissions and innovative performances by iSing’s young singers.

Saturday, May 22, at 4:30pm PT/7:30pm ET
How to watch: iSing’s YouTube channel
Tickets: Free; Please RSVP at to receive viewing link

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet

Semi-Finalists in Menuhin Competition Announced
The first-ever virtual Menuhin Competition, the world’s leading international competition for young violinists, begins on May 14, with a live concert by the Richmond Symphony in the 2021 Competition’s host city, Richmond VA.

A complete list of Junior and Senior Semi-Finalists is on the Menuhin Competition website:
Junior Semi-Finalists:
Senior Semi-Finalists:

--Beverly Greenfield, Kirshbaum Associates

Visions of Childhood (CD review)

April Fredrick, soprano; Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Nimbus Alliance NI 6408.

By Karl W. Nehring

This is an unusual album in several ways, and a wonderful album in many ways. What is unusual about it? First, consider the program, which consists of two main items: A suite titled Visions of Childhood comprising music by Mahler, Wagner, Humperdinck, and Schubert; and the Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) of Richard Strauss. Another unusual twist is that the music is performed not by a full symphony orchestra, but in chamber arrangements for a reduced orchestra of no more than 16 players. Maestro Woods explains in his detailed and helpful liner notes that the idea for arrangements on this album stems from the Society for Private Musical Performances founded by composer Arnold Schoenberg in 1919, which for a period of three years made arrangements of new musical compositions so they could be heard by interested members of the musical public, “played in arrangements for small ensembles like the one you will hear on this recording.”

Woods goes on to observe that “for much of the 20th Century, the arrangements of the Society were largely forgotten. In an affluent age, there seemed to be little need for arrangements of Mahler symphonies and songs for 10-15 players. However, in the last twenty years or so, these arrangements have seen a resurgence, and have become recognised as being artistically interesting in their own right. From a listener’s point of view, they offer a more intimate view of the music, one that perhaps allows the creativity and artistry of the individual performances to shine through. In the age of Covid-19, these arrangements have taken on a new importance in our musical life.”

Visions of Childhood is prefaced with a brief 15 seconds of the opening measures of the Mahler Symphony No. 4 with its sleigh bells and violins, in an arrangement by Erwin Stein. We then immediately are ushered into a performance of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, which is, as Woods points out, Wagner’s only mature quality piece of purely instrumental music, originally scored for 13 solo players that first performed it on Christmas morning in 1870 as a surprise for Wagner’s wife, Cosima. As performed here, this is more than 18 minutes of utterly beautiful music, even in Woods’s somewhat stripped-down arrangement, for which he explains that “in order to bring this work into the same soundworld as the rest of the programme, I’ve had to sacrifice (the) trumpet part and the two beautiful horn parts, as well the second clarinet and bassoon, but have been able to add piano and harmonium. Where possible, I’ve kept the parts from Wagner’s original unchanged in the instruments which carried over, but no single part in my arrangement is exactly the same as in Wagner’s.”

Next up in the program are three shorter pieces, all in arrangements by Woods and highlighting the charmingly expressive voice of soprano April Fredrick. The first of the three, a couple of excerpts from Humperdinck’s children’s opera Hansel und Gretel, also serves to highlight how the music on this album is bound together, as Woods notes that Humperdinck’s opera is a “quasi-Wagnerian” setting of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale that was given its first production under the baton of Richard Strauss and its second production under Mahler’s direction. From the Humperdinck piece we are then taken to Schubert’s familiar melody Die Forelle (“The Trout”), of which Woods explains, “given the sonic possibilities of expanding the accompaniment from piano to miniature orchestra, I decided to be more interventionist in arranging and expanding Schubert’s song. I have combined the three verses of the song with several, but not all, of the variations of the Trout Quintet, choosing to alternate strophes of the song with variations from the quintet that I thought suited the mood of the lyrics.” The end result of Woods’s tinkering, Fredricks’s singing, and the musicians’ playing of these familiar melodies in this unexpected setting is bound to bring a joyful smile to the faces of many music lovers. Sheer delight! The third of the brief selections is Die irdische Leben (“The Earthly Life”) from Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn, which as Woods explains, speaks of a world of terror and hunger, thus presenting quite a contrast to Mahler’s Das Himmlishche Leben (“The Heavenly Life’), the song that concludes Woods’s Visions suite.

But between these two arrangements of contrasting songs by Mahler, Woods again presents us with a combination of a song and variations of music by Schubert, Der Tod and Das Madchen (“Death and the Maiden”). Aficionados of chamber music are likely familiar with Schubert’s string quartet that bears that moniker. Woods gives us his arrangement of the slow movement of the quartet with his orchestration of the song added at the end, a song in which the young maiden pleads with Death to pass her by but Death responds by saying, “Be of good cheer! I am not fierce,/Softly shall you sleep in my arms!” And then we are privy to the ultimate vision of childhood, a child’s view of heaven in this excerpt from the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. Fredricks’ voice seems perfectly suited for this music; indeed, I would love to hear Woods and Fredricks record the full symphony with full orchestra. But do not let that let comment cast any doubt on my admiration for what Woods, Frederick, and the assembled musicians have accomplished here, which is truly remarkable.

If the program ended there, this CD would be highly recommendable, but as they say on those TV commercials, “Wait, there’s more!

The program closes with a chamber arrangement by James Ledger of Strauss’s Four Last Songs. The work is a specialty of soprano Fredrick, with the liner notes explaining that “the work’s exploration of the fragility of life took on new urgency and poignancy when Fredric contracted Covid-19 in late March, and so it was only right that this should be the work with which she returned to the performing arena with the ESO on the 26th of July for this filmed concert and recording.” As Fredrick herself explains, “the fatigue, which is one of the virus’s symptoms, was like nothing I’d experienced, giving a new dimension to the multiple uses in the cycle of the wonderful German adjective ‘müde’’ (‘tired, weary, worn out’). But I will also never forget the incredible, almost euphoric joy I felt the first time I walked out or my front door after my quarantine -- what an unthinkable privilege to be well and free to move about again. A stark encounter with mortality, weariness, euphoria, and ‘weiter, stille Friede (wide, still peace); the virus provided me with the most curious sort of gift of experience which has forever stamped and deepened my understanding of this work.” Hearing the cycle in this arrangement is a remarkable experience, especially when my previous exposure to the work has been through the huge sound of the late Jessye Norman accompanied by Kurt Masur with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. That is a recording I treasure for its sheer sumptuousness, but this version with Fredrick, Woods, and the small band of ESO players is equally striking for presenting the music with beauty of a more intimate sort.

All in all, this is a truly satisfying release. The music is familiar but presented in novel arrangements that work remarkably well both musically and intellectually, providing much to reflect on regarding life, love, and death. The sound quality is excellent, and the liner notes are extensive and illuminating; as a welcome bonus, they include full lyrics in both German and English. And with a length of more than 79 minutes, you are certainly getting more than your money’s worth with this disc. Highly recommended!


Juilliard String Quartet: Beethoven, Bartok, Dvorak (CD review)

Juilliard String Quartet. Sony 19439858752.

By John J. Puccio

The Juilliard String Quartet needs no introduction. They are an American institution. But for the few unenlightened, here is a brief description. The already knowledgeable may safely move on to the next paragraph. The Juilliard School’s president at the time of the quartet’s founding, William Schuman, suggested the creation of the Juilliard String Quartet in 1946, where it has been the quartet-in-residence ever since. From then until now, it has received numerous awards, including four Grammys; it has recorded countless albums; and it has known seventeen different members. Its present configuration consists of Areta Zhulla, violin; Ronald Copes, violin; Roger Tapping, viola; and Astrid Schween, cello. Yet despite the years and despite the changes in personnel, the quartet has remained remarkably the same in tone, temper, precision, and style.

On the present album, the quartet celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary with three cornerstone works of the quartet repertory: Beethoven’s String Quartet in e minor, Op. 59, No 2; Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, SZ.85; and Dvorak’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American.”

The program opens with Beethoven (1770-1827), who published the String Quartet in e minor, Op. 59, No 2 in 1808, one of his middle-period quartets. It’s also the eighth quartet he wrote, so sometimes people just refer to it as No. 8. To further complicate its naming, the quartet’s benefactor was a Count Rasumovsky, who provided one of the tunes. So the quartet is also known as “Rasumovsky.” By whatever name, it’s lovely.

So is the playing of the Juilliard team. Their care and accuracy are things of beauty. Their inflection, their tone, their graduated stresses are letter perfect. Their nuance is above reproach. One can easily hear from the opening movement of the Beethoven that we are in the company of greatness, both from the composer and from the Juilliard Quartet. They understand the nature of the music, the succinctness of Beethoven’s writing, the appropriate points of emphasis, and the length of sustained silences. Yes, lovely, and ending in befittingly high spirits.

Next is Hungarian composer and pianist Bela Bartok (1881-1945), who wrote his String Quartet No. 3 in 1927, one of six he composed in the genre. Bartok intended the piece to be performed in one uninterrupted span, but in the score he indicated four distinct sections. The piece begins rather somberly but livens up by the second part (Seconda parte: Allegro). As always, the Juilliard foursome handle it with authority, capturing the forward and rhythmic pulses of the work with clarity and assurance.

The program concludes with Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), who wrote his String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American” while he was living in the United States, and thus the familiar name for the work. He wrote it just after he wrote his “New World” Symphony, and it, too, proved a success. Dvorak said of it, “When I wrote this quartet in the Czech community of Spillville in 1893, I wanted to write something for once that was very melodious and straightforward, and dear Papa Haydn kept appearing before my eyes, and that is why it all turned out so simply. And it’s good that it did." As with the Ninth Symphony, Dvorak credited Negro spirituals and Native American folk music as influences on his quartet, although he quoted nothing directly from them in the score.

If you like Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony and somehow have never heard the Quartet in F minor, you’ll find in it a surprising similarity in structure and melody to the bigger work, a resemblance the Juilliard players are keen to exploit. The music dances smoothly between restfully introspective passages and carefree, pulsating segments, the Juilliard players appearing to enjoy the contrasts and cadences as much as the listener.

Producer and engineer Steven Epstein recorded the music at the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College State University of New York in May 2019. I’m not sure I have heard a string quartet captured any better. Although they are slightly close, they are exceptionally well balanced, with excellent transparency, dynamics, and realism. There is no hint of hardness, brightness, or forwardness in the sound, just a totally natural presentation.


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

Meet the Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa