Recent Releases, No. 11 (CD Mini-reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Brahms: Symphony No. 3; Serenade No. 2. Iván Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra. Channel Classics CCS SA 43821.

I will say at the outset that this is a truly fine recording and performance of the Brahms symphony and serenade; seriously, if you read any further, you may be left scratching your head and wondering what the heck my problem is. Believe me, good reader, the problem is mine, not yours, nor Channel Classics, nor Maestro Fischer’s (who with the same orchestra has made some dynamite Mahler recordings). In an event, I have rarely been able to find recordings of Brahms symphonies with which I am truly satisfied (that list – a rather short one indeed – consists of Klemperer in No. 1, Karajan and Walter in No. 3, and Walter and Stokowski in No. 4). The engineering on this new Channel release is superior to either of my two favorites (I listened to the stereo CD layer of this SACD disc, which also contains a 5.0 surround mix for those so inclined and equipped). (As far as the Serenade No. 2, I will withhold any comment, for this is music I have tried repeatedly over the years to develop any sort of feeling for without any success.) Although the Budapest Festival Orchestra sounds splendid on this recording, what holds me back from giving it my own enthusiastic recommendation is a certain feeling of squareness, of liveliness, of spontaneity. For my taste at least, Fischer just seems too earthbound. All the notes are there, but he does not quite make them sing or dance or come completely to life. But in my experience, very few conductors do, and again, the sound quality is excellent, so this release is certainly well worth an audition by Brahmsians more broadminded than I.

Glass-Sandresky: Strange Energies. Sandresky: Flowing Water Encounters Obstacles; Nor'easter; What's Left; Fear; Force; Waves; Laughter. Glass: Etudes Nos. 2, 9, 12, 16.      
Eleonor Sandresky, piano. Orange Mountain Music OMM 7019.

Eleonor Sandresky is a pianist who has worked closely with composer Philip Glass for than three decades and has often performed with the Philip Glass Ensemble. Her works for the piano as presented on this recording, however, do not sound like warmed-over Glass. They are more expressive, more varied in style and mood. On her website, Sandresky says of this music that “I began composing these pieces back in 2012 as a way to try to capture various properties of sound: how it dies away, how it travels, where I feel it in my body, etc. With each of these pieces, I have tried to explore a different set of parameters for the performer and the audience. These are as much etudes for the audience to listen with specific intention as they are for the pianist!” Although the music of Glass that concludes the album by comparison seems more buttoned-down emotionally, the piano music of Glass can be fascinating, even spellbinding, and Sandresky does a fine job of drawing out the “strange energies” that lie below the surface of what can come across as shallow and repetitive music. This CD was one of those library finds that I hesitated to audition, having never having heard of Sandresky, but in the end I was glad I took the chance. If you are a fan of piano music, I invite you to do the same.

Reflections. Vikingur Ólafsson, piano. Deutsche Grammophon 00289 483 9222.
This new album from Icelandic pianist Vikingur Ólafsson is something of a follow-up to an album that we reviewed last year (that review can be found here). This time around, however, what we have is not a straightforward recital by Ólafsson of music by Debussy and Rameau, but rather some cuts featuring Ólafsson on the piano along with a variety of other musicians and sonorities. Ólafsson says of his aims in putting this project together: "I wanted to explore certain works from fresh perspectives, to reimagine them and invite other composers to rework elements of these extraordinary pieces... In addition to my own new recordings and material, this album features wonderful artists from different directions who have used my recordings from the Debussy-Rameau album as material for their own highly original works. They have opened my ears to new, fascinating paths and for that I am immensely grateful." Those new paths and sounds include the use of some electronic manipulation of sounds, synthesizers, guitars, percussion - this might sound quite daunting, but overall, the sounds produced are quite tasteful. The most jarring sound to my ears was the inclusion of a human voice on one cut. The sound of the voice was not in itself jarring, it was just unexpected on what is otherwise an instrumental album. Still, the best cuts on the albums were those featuring Ólafsson on the piano, of which fortunately there are quite a few, the most amazing of which is Track 8, titled Reflection, which is an improvisation on Debussy's Bruyères, the piece with which Ólafsson also opens and closes the album. The only fly in the ointment is the recorded sound, as some of the Ólafsson tracks were apparently recorded during pandemic lockdown under less than ideal circumstances and there are some extraneous noises that some listeners might find an unwelcome distraction. The other tracks are just fine. All in all, Reflections is a fascinating and imaginative release.

The Tower and the Garden: Toivo Tulev: A child said, what is the grass?; Gregory Spears: The Tower and the Garden; Joel Puckett: I enter the earth; Donald Nally, The Crossing. Navona NV6303.

The Crossing is a professional chamber choir that specializes in new music. They have made a number of recordings and picked up Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance of 2018 for their recording of The Fifth Century by Gavin Bryars and 2019 for their recording of Zealot Chronicles by Lansing McCloskey. The three compositions on The Tower and the Garden each have a different overall sonority and sonic signature to them; ideally, that means listeners will be bound to find a sound they really like (reminiscent of the old Jimmy Dean restaurant television commercials – remember them? – “we’ll treat you so many ways you’re bound to like one of ‘em!). First up is A child said, what is the grass? by Estonian composer Toivo Tulev (b. 1958), which features some relatively mild dissonances but not to the point of annoyance. Next up is the title piece, The Tower and the Garden by American composer Gregory Spears (b. 1977), which consists of four movements. On this piece, the sound of the choir is augmented by the sound of a string quartet, producing a rich sonic rich tapestry. For the final composition, I enter the earth by American composer Joel Puckett (b. 1977), The Crossing produce some truly enticing harmonies, leaving the listener with a sense of serenity and inspiration.


R. Strauss: Ein Heldenleben (CD review)

Also, Burleske. Bertrand Chamayou, piano; Antonio Pappano, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Warner Classics 190295028459.

By John J. Puccio

Richard Strauss (1864-1949), the German composer and conductor of so many lengthy symphonic tone poems wrote Ein Heldenleben (“A Hero’s Life”) in 1898 or thereabouts as a tongue-in-cheek autobiography, a semi-serious portrait of himself. Strauss was only thirty-four years old at the time, so you can see what self-confidence he must have had by writing so whimsical a life story at so early an age. He seems to have written it primarily, though, to get in a few digs at his critics, whom he convincingly silences through the music. Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia give it their all in a big, robustly imposing live performance.

Strauss divided Ein Heldenleben into seven parts that describe seven stages in the artist’s life. The first segment, “The Hero,” obviously describes Strauss himself and does so on a large, swashbuckling scale. Here, the music is dashing and needs to be presented with plenty of panache. Next, the music turns to “The Hero’s Adversaries,” his critics, where we hear them squabbling among themselves in amusing fashion, their trivialities, to be sure, yet their possibly sinister nature as well. Following that is “The Hero’s Companion,” his wife, whom the violinist sweetly defines in solo. Then in the ensuing “Love Scene” we find not only a loving, harmonious wife but an apparently complex one.

Maestro Pappano takes the big sections, like the opening, in a grand, full-blooded manner. It loses subtlety but makes up for it in grandeur. The Hero’s wife, played by solo violin, is nicely done, with fine inflection and feeling. While I’d like to single out this solo violinist, the booklet notes don’t indicate who it is. I will assume it was the concertmaster, Roberto Gonzalez-Monjas. Well done, sir.

“The Hero’s Battlefield” is the centerpiece of the work, where Strauss engages in all-out war with his critics, reminding them (musically) of his accomplishments with bits from his own Don Juan and Also sprach Zarathustra, as well as a few horns from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. It’s music filled with urgency and excitement but should not be hectic or bombastic. Here, I would have liked more impetus, even more energy from Pappano. Still, the recording makes up for any lack of muscularity in the performance with plenty of bite and impact in the sound.

“The Hero’s Works of Peace” is another slow movement, again a remembrance of the composer’s previous tone poems as an almost-final rebuke of his foes. After that, the work closes with “The Hero’s Retirement from the World and His Fulfillment,” the longest movement, a concluding note of possible contentment and repose for a life of art well spent. Remember, this is coming from a fellow who at the time was relatively young, so Strauss no doubt meant it more than a bit ironically, maybe sarcastically. I liked these final sections in Maestro Pappano’s hands more than I did his treatment of the first parts. He seems more in the spirit of the proceedings as things go along.

Coupled with Heldenleben Maestro Pappano has chosen another Strauss work, the shorter Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra (1885-86), with pianist Bertrand Chamayou. It’s an early work, written by Strauss when he was twenty-one. Originally, Strauss had written it for pianist and conductor Hans von Bulow, who thought it a “complicated piece of nonsense,” with an unplayable piano part, and refused to perform it. Well, the title translates into “farce” or “mockery,” so what did he expect? It eventually became one of Strauss’s personal favorite works. Chamayou handles the solo piano with appropriate flair, and Pappano’s accompaniment follows in a like manner. The music is fun, and Chamayou and Pappano seem to be enjoying themselves.

Producer and engineer Giacomo De Caterini recorded Ein Heldenleben live at the Auditorium Parco della musica, Rome in January 2018 and Burleske in October 2020. Because the engineer recorded Heldenleben live, it’s rather close-up and without much orchestral depth. It also appears slightly dull for some reason. There are, however, compensating dynamic and frequency ranges of strength and width that help Strauss’s heroic music come alive. The Burleske comes off much better sonically. It sounds more robust and a little more dimensional.


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

Recent Releases, No. 10 (CD Mini-Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1; Symphonic Dances. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Philadelphia Orchestra. Deutsche Grammophon 483 9839.

One of the pleasures of following Classical Candor is reading reviews by fellow reviewers John Puccio and Bill Heck not only to enjoy their insights and recommendations about various recordings but also to delight in their deft and descriptive deployment of the English language. They always seem to find just the right words with which to craft their insightful and delightful prose. In sad contrast to those distinguished gentlemen, after listening to this new recording numerous times all I can say is that the music, the performances, and the and the engineering are all totally kickass. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 suffered a disastrous first public performance in 1897 by an ill-prepared orchestra conducted badly by an apparently drunken Alexander Glazunov. The resultant fiasco and humiliating press coverage so unnerved Rachmaninoff that he suffered a nervous breakdown that stifled his creative energy for three years. But in this recording we have the “Fabulous Philadelphians” at the height of their powers under the baton of a conductor in full possession of his faculties; together, they make a persuasive case indeed for this oft-overlooked symphony, a work full of passion and excitement. Its disc-mate is the more widely known Symphonic Dances, a rousing piece that has long been a favorite of audiophiles. Old-timers may remember the old Donald Johanos/Dallas Symphony recording, one that seemed exciting at the time, especially in light of its being on a budget label, but in retrospect was maybe not really all that great (the low price may have perhaps tainted our judgment). Other audiophiles might have fond memories of the David Zinman/Baltimore Symphonic Dances on Telarc, which still sounds darned good. Whatever your preference might be, this new DG recording is right up there with the best in terms of both sonics and performance, with plenty of energy in both those dimensions (and with, yes, Telarc-worthy bass). As I said above, kickass. Enough said…     

Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun. Metheny: Four Paths of Light; Road to the Sun; Arvo Part: Fur Alina. Jason Vieaux and Pat Metheny, guitar; Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (John Dearman, Matthew Greif, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant). Modern Recordings 538639322.

The first concert I ever took my young sons to was the Pat Metheny Group sometime back in the early 80s – may even have been the late 70s. Over the ensuing decades, Metheny has made some memorable music, never resting on his laurels or content to play his familiar tunes over and over again, always striving to create something new, pushing himself as a composer and arranger as well as a guitarist. From his earlier albums with his Pat Metheny Group (Still Life Talking and We Live Here are noteworthy examples highlighting his melodic gift, along with that of his gifted keyboard companion, the late Lyle Mays) through his ultimate album with that group, The Way Up, which is virtually a through-composed symphonic piece by Metheny that strains against the limitations of a small jazz ensemble, Metheny followers could sense that he was more than just a guitarist, he was a composer whose chosen instrument was the guitar. Then in 2020 he returned to the studio with a new group to release From This Place, a flowingly lyrical album that included some symphonic accompaniment. At 76 minutes, it was an amazing achievement, emphasizing once again Metheny’s gift for composition as well as his prowess on the guitar.

Each month, the final page of BBC Music Magazine features an interview titled “Music That Changed Me,” in which some public figure, typically someone connected with the arts, is asked about the music that has had a significant influence in the course of their life. Imagine my surprise – and joy! – when I reached the final page of the most recent issue to reach my humble abode (May 2021) and saw a photo of a smiling, curly-headed American guitarist by the name of Pat Metheny. What a wonderful surprise! The interviewees are always asked to list a few key recordings, and Metheny’s list of five pieces began with three that were not particularly surprising: “And I Love Her” by the Beatles (as a teenager he loved George Harrison’s guitar work, and later in his career he recorded the piece himself on acoustic guitar), “Seven Step to Heaven” by Miles Davis (Metheny says that his brother brought home Davis’s Four and More album and that “hearing this cut was like being hit over the head by a two-by-four, and instant life-changing moment. At the time I didn’t know anything about form and chord changes, I just heard the sound…”), and Wes Montgomery’s “If You Could See Me Now” (which Metheny says contains “the greatest guitar solo of all time, including Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Segovia”). His next selection was something of a surprise, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (Metheny notes that “among the best phone calls I ever got was Steve Reich asking me to play his solo work for electric guitar, Electric Counterpoint. I’d been a fan for years: his Music for 18 Musicians changed everything – Steve had somehow captured the worldwide polar-magnetic shift from triple to duple time”). But it was his final choice that really surprised me, none other than Furtwangler’s recording of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (“Filling in blanks, particularly in the world of written music, is an ongoing process for me. I’m lucky to live across the street from Lincoln Center in New York and I had the chance to see Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Met. It was a life-changing experience to rival ‘Seven Steps to Heaven.’ I knew the piece because it is famous in my world as being this four-hour exploration of a minor seventh, flat five chord, of the ‘Tristan’ chord. I went three night in a row, and each night it just got better”). I really did not see that one coming…

Something else that I did not see coming was that the next recording that Metheny would release after From This Place would be his first release ever to feature his work not as a performer, but rather as a composer. The album leads off with classical guitarist Jason Vieaux performing a Metheny composition for solo guitar titled Four Paths of Light. Naturally enough, the composition comprises four parts, each possessing a depth of expression and emotion that long-time listeners of Metheny’s music will recognize; however, Vieaux’s style of playing and the sound of his guitar does come across as more traditionally classical most of the time – still, there are passages where you can really hear Metheny ringing through. The next composition is the title piece, Road to the Sun, a six-part work written for and performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (with some “guest strumming” by Metheny on a couple of the parts). This is of course a more ambitious undertaking, more complex in structure, more formal sounding, but not without phrases that make you think that yes, this sounds like something that Pat Metheny could have composed. It truly is a delightful work, one that rewards repeated listening.

The album closes with a bonus track, and once again I can honestly say that just like I never see it coming that Pat Metheny would list Furtwangler conducting Tristan and Isolde as one of his favorite recordings, neither did I ever foresee him playing an Arvo Pärt tune on one of his recordings, but Road to the Sun concludes with Metheny offering a haunting version of Pärt’s Für Alina on his custom-made 42-string guitar. My friends, hearing Pat Metheny, one of my all-time favorite musicians, play the music of Arvo Pärt, one of my all-time favorite composers, on his amazing instrument with its incredible range of sounds made me feel that my life was now complete and had not been lived entirely in vain. To be sure, this recording may not have anywhere near the same profound sort of spiritual effect on you, but still, there is some genuinely fine music here that I can recommend without reservation.       

Bonus Recommendation:

Images of Metheny. Jason Vieaux, guitar. Azica Records ACD 71233.

On this recording from 2005, classical guitarist Jason Vieaux presents 13 songs by Pat Metheny in arrangements for classical guitar, including taking five songs and arranging them into the form of a baroque suite. Unfortunately, the CD is now hard to find; it can be streamed, however, for those so inclined. 


Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto (Digital DL review)

Also, Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto. Jascha Heifetz, violin; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra. HDTT Direct Stream Digital and DXD PCM FLAC downloads.

By John J. Puccio

Let me begin with a few personal opinions and observations so you know where my biases lie.

First, I think Jascha Heifetz is one of the greatest violinists of the stereo age. Maybe the greatest violinist of any age. Yes, there are some fine runners up, like Itzhak Perlman, Nathan Milstein, Arthur Grumiaux, Yehudi Menuhin, Henryk Szeryng, Isaac Stern, and others. And certainly there are any number of contemporary musicians who may, in time, lay claim to the title. In any case, it’s always a pleasure to review something by Heifetz. (These HDTT remasters were originally recorded in the late Fifties.)

Second, I do have slightly mixed feelings about these particular Heifetz recordings of the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos. I have always thought Heifetz’s Tchaikovsky was unsurpassed for its performance, but I’ve never cared overmuch for the sound. With the Mendelssohn I always found the sound acceptable but thought the performance a bit rushed. Nevertheless, they are both well worth owning.

Third, I have no horse in the vinyl vs. compact disc vs. digital streaming vs. digital download races. I’m sure there are excellent examples of superb sound in each format. For me, the fact that I listened to these Heifetz performances via Direct Stream Digital DSD and DXL PCM FLAC downloads is immaterial to my preference in formats. Whatever sounds best is what I enjoy, so I try to look for whatever I haven’t heard, make comparisons, and not generalize too much about what is always going to be best.

Now, about the performances: The program begins with the Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 by Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). He wrote it in 1878 during a time when he was trying to recover from a bout of depression. Some critics of the day found the work wanting, one of them going so far as to say that it sounded "long and pretentious" and that it "brought us face to face with the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear." Thank heaven for the passage of time and the eventual validation of the work as a classic of the repertoire.

As with most concertos, Tchaikovsky’s piece begins with an Allegro, in this case taken at an appropriately healthy tempo, followed by a slow middle section Andante and then, without a break, a spirited Allegro vivacissimo. I doubt that anyone could argue against the Heifetz performance. He generates more excitement than probably any violinist in history. Still, he’s not all flash, and he handles the Andante with infinite care before concluding with a dazzling finish. Heifetz plays the piece with authority. It’s beautiful.

The other piece on the agenda is the Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) The composer premiered it in 1845, just two years before his early death, and it would be the last big orchestral work of his lifetime. Fortunately, he went out in style, the concerto being among the most popular in the violin repertoire. The work consists of three fairly standard movements, but it was inventive in its day in that the violin appears almost immediately, and the movements are played without pause. In this concerto, Heifetz again puts on a blazing display of virtuosity, and while it can be fun in most respects, it may also be overkill. Some would say Mendelssohn needs a lighter, gentler touch.

Producer John Pfeiffer and engineer Lewis Layton recorded the Tchaikovsky at Orchestra Hall, Chicago in April 1957. Producer Pfeiffer and engineer John Crawford recorded the Mendelssohn at Orchestra Hall, Boston in February 1959. HDTT remastered the recordings in a variety of download formats including DSD128 (Direct Stream Digital), 24/352 8 DXD PCM FLAC digital, DSD64, 24/192 PCM, and 24/96 PCM, plus a variety of DVD Audio and CD configurations on physical disc. I listened to the DSD128 and 24/352 8 DXD PCM FLAC downloads.

During my listening sessions, I couldn’t help compare apples to oranges. I had on my shelf two longtime favorite CDs of these Heifetz recordings from JVC (Japanese Victor Company) using their meticulous XRCD processing. So I brought them down for a direct A-B comparison with the HDTT products. Which is unfair, I know, because JVC used the original RCA master tapes, and HDTT used commercially available tapes. Therefore, the reader should draw no absolute conclusions from my listening.

The differences, though, were quite apparent between the HDTT DSD download and the JVC discs, even after much fiddling with the volume to adjust each source to within a decibel of one another. HDTT tells us ahead of time what to expect, so I’ll quote from their Web site: “Because of the limited editing capability of DSD, to keep it ‘Pure DSD’ with no PCM used, you could hear blemishes from the original tape source that would be normally edited out in a PCM release.” In the case of the Tchaikovsky and the Mendelssohn, both recorded in the late 1950’s, HDTT retained not only”blemishes” but the original tape hiss, which was quite noticeabe in the Tchaikovsky and especially in the DSD format. JVC apparently used some sort of noise-reduction process to edit out the tape hiss, making their CD’s considerably quieter. However, the HDTT transfers appear to have retained much of the dynamic range of the originals. They’re just noisier, which is unfortunate. On the other hand, once adjusting one’s ears to the HDTT hiss, the JVC discs could sound downright dull for a moment, until one got used to the quieter sonics. The Mendelssohn sounded better than the Tchaikovsky all the way around in both HDTT download formats as well as on the JVC discs, with a better balance between the soloist and orchestra and a generally warmer, fuller presentation.

In any case, the HDTT transfers sounded fine, if not as easy on the ears as the JVC discs (which I’m not sure are available anymore). Yet, the fact remains that neither of these recordings--neither the Tchaikovsky nor the Mendelssohn--was ever the ultimate in sound to begin with. The close-up violin in the Tchaikovsky, for instance, can be annoying given the quality of the performance.

Bottom line: In the absence of the JVC XRCD’s, the HDTT transfers may be a person’s best bet for sound. The DSD download is slightly the better sounding if you can put up with the tape hiss. The DXD PCM FLAC, however, may be the optimum compromise: good sound with less hiss. Finally, if you are unable to play back digital downloads at all, HDTT offers various CD transfers that will do nicely, and they have the advantage of HDTT having cleared them of most tape noise.

Both of these Heifetz performances--the Tchaikovsky and the Mendelssohn--remain among the finest ever recorded, and I would advise anyone to seek them out in whatever format is available.

For complete information on HDTT products, visit their Web site at


To listen to a brief excerpt from the DXD FLAC download, click below:

The See Within (CD review)

Echo Collective. 7K! 7K024CD.

By Karl W. Nehring

Readers who have followed Classical Candor for a while might remember the Brussels-based musicians Echo Collective from our review of their DG release 12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann, music composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. They have had an interesting and varied career, performing in concert settings in support of  artists such as Jóhannsson and A Winged Victory For The Sullen. They have also lent their interpretative talents to releases by themselves and others and others in musical genres as diverse as alt.rock, synth-pop, and black metal. Classical music fans need not worry, however, because The See Within, which is Echo Collective’s first album comprising their own original material (one of their previous releases, for example, was their instrumental version of Radiohead’s Amnesiac). Although The See Within is clearly contemporary in outlook, is fits without too awkward a stretch into the Western “classical” chamber music tradition.

The music is scored for violin, viola, cello, harp and, in its first appearance on a commercially released album recording, the magnetic resonator piano (MRP). “All sounds are acoustic, and produced in real time,” explain Echo Collective co-founders Margaret Hermant (violin, harp) and Neil Leiter (viola). “No processing or post-production other than reverb. The acoustic element is Echo Collective’s identity. A natural sound.”

The MRP, of which only one currently exists (built by its inventor, Andrew MacPherson), is something else again. I listened to the CD several times and assumed that there must be some subtle electronic instrumentation involved, some sort of synthesizer or perhaps electronic processing of the sound produced by a piano and perhaps some other instruments, although overall most of the sounds seemed quite natural. Only later did I do a little investigation and learn that all the sounds on the recording were acoustic. What I thought were synthesized tones were produced acoustically by the MRP, in which powerful electromagnets fitted to an acoustic piano – “imagine the effect of a giant E-bow” suggests Hermant – and an extra pedal prolong the notes, creating the kind of sustain and crescendos that can be achieved with strings. The MRP preserves all the sounds and techniques of the acoustic piano, while expanding its range of sounds to include things such as infinite sustain, crescendos (including crescendos from silence), harmonics on each string, new timbres that can be shaped in real time, and subtle pitch bends. Leiter explains that “in contrast to the conventional (hammer-actuated) piano sound, the sounds of the MRP are pure and ethereal, emphasizing the fundamental frequency of each string over its high partials. We discovered the MRP about six months before recording the album. It allowed us to give piano and strings equal expression, and to present a unified acoustic sound, since any drone effect on a piano is usually reliant on electronics. It’s been fascinating to take a traditional instrument and set it free.”

The MRP is played by Gary De Cart, The See Within’s third composer alongside Hermant and Leiter, while the album’s fourth musician, cellist Charlotte Danhier, is credited with co-writing the title track. Both De Cart and Danhier are regular members of the fluctuating collective, but the core of the ensemble is its two founders.

The opening cut, “Inflection Point,” sounds like fairly straightforward chamber music, with some subtle use of the MRP, while the second cut, “The See Within,” begins to let us hear what the MRP is capable of, creating some interesting sustains in the lower strings of the piano as a foundation for the sounds of the violin and harp above.

In the third cut, “From Last Night’s Rain,” we hear chords on the piano in addition to some other occasional effects. However, I should not over-emphasize the MRP; in truth, it is an integrated part of a true chamber ensemble, and there is much more to this music than just the sound of this instrument, which I have focused on because of its unusual nature, not because it has in any way dominated the sound of the music. At least to my mind’s ear (or ear’s mind), cut 4, “The Witching Hour,” expresses longing mingled with apprehension. It is a focused and convincing piece of music.    

Cut 5, “Glitch,” opens with some unusual sounds that resemble the calls of dolphins. As the music progresses, the listener can perhaps imagine it being part of the soundtrack for some psychological thriller. The next piece, “Unknown Gates,” gives prominence to the harp with support from the MRP. It really does function as something of a gateway, bringing us to the major composition on the album, the 11-minute “Respire.” This truly is a remarkable piece of music, calling upon the sounds of the MRP, the cello, the violin, and the harp to evoke feelings of calm, joy, peace, and wonder. Listen, breathe, behold, be calm, be well. The final track, “First Brightening,” turns the energy level up a notch or two. After all, we must not be content to sit and be well, we must stand and do good, bringing about some brightening.

All in all, The See Within is a musical breath of fresh air blowing in from Brussels. Give this remarkable album an audition and be amazed, as was I, that all the sounds you hear are produced by acoustic instruments. I look eagerly forward to future releases by this remarkable ensemble, regardless of musical genre. Brava and bravo! 


Beethoven: Violin Concerto (SACD review)

Also, Schnittke: Violin Concerto No. 3. Vadim Gluzman, violin; James Gaffigan, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester. BIS 2392.

By John J. Puccio

Another Beethoven Violin Concerto? Well, it’s a popular piece. Every violinist with aspirations of greatness must play and record it. And the obsessive Beethoven or classical collector can never get enough of anything. So where there’s a need, there’s someone to fill it. Fortunately, this one is pretty good, with Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman accompanied by conductor James Gaffigan and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.

Beethoven wrote the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major in 1806. It received an unfavorable première, and the composer practically shelved it for the rest of his life, never publishing another violin concerto again. The world would have to wait until 1844 before violinist Joseph Joachim and conductor and composer Felix Mendelssohn revived the work, and, needless to say, it has been one of the most important concertos in the genre ever since.

The work begins with a lengthy and fairly laid-back introduction before the violin finally enters with a flourish. A slow, central Larghetto follows, with a lively Rondo to cap things off. Gluzman measures up well to most other soloists in this work, his tempos and spirit well judged. There is nothing revolutionary about his playing; it’s simply exciting and vigorous when it needs to be; lyrical and melodious when it needs to be (the Larghetto wins the day); and straightforward and affecting when it needs to be. It’s a performance that’s never pushy yet never boring. I wouldn’t put it in the Heifetz category, but it’s genial and pleasing enough, and the smoothness of its recording is quite a lot better than most.

Paired with the Beethoven Violin Concerto is the Concerto No. 3 for violin and chamber orchestra by the Soviet-German composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-98). Why Schnittke? Probably because of the cadenzas he wrote for the Beethoven piece. We go from cadenzas to concerto. Simple.

Schnittke wrote his Third Violin Concerto in 1978 for Soviet violinist Oleg Kagan, and, not surprisingly, the cadenza plays an important role in the music making. In fact, the work opens with an extended cadenza, the soloist finally joined by winds. Although the whole piece seems more eccentric to me than musically satisfying, it makes a fascinating listen all the same. It holds one’s attention, while never entirely engaging one’s sympathy or affection. Schnittke’s concerto is a kind of tour-de-force for the soloist, who is almost the entire show. There’s not a lot of dialogue between the violinist and the accompanists at first; they are there merely to hold up the tent. Nevertheless, by the second movement they all join in and work splendidly together, with even a string quartet eventually getting in on the act. Throughout, Gluzman’s playing is impeccable.

Producer Martin Nagorni and engineers Fabian Frank (Schnittke) and Thore Brinkmann (Beethoven) recorded the music at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern, Seitzerland in November 2017 (Schnittke) and December 2019 (Beethoven). They made it for hybrid SACD/CD playback, meaning that if you have an SACD player, you can enjoy the music in either two-channel or multichannel playback, and if you have a regular CD player, you can enjoy the regular two-channel CD layer. I listened in two-channel SACD.

Either way, CD or SACD, the sound is quite satisfying. Indeed, you could hardly improve upon it. It’s big and warm and robust, without a trace of brightness or edge. Perhaps the soloist could have been better centered, I dunno. The dynamic range is wide; the impact is solid; hall resonance is realistic; transparency is fine; and frequency extremes are more than adequate. Enjoyable listening.


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

Recent New Releases, No. 9 (CD Mini-Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Albores: Dino Saluzzi, bandoneon. ECM 2638 774 7754.

Dino Saluzzi (b. 1935) is a master of the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument most often associated with the tango. However, the music on Albores, consisting of nine compositions by Saluzzi, is not tango music, as we can infer from a glance at the back cover. The title of the first track, Adiós Maestro Kancheli, is a reference to Georgian composer Giya Kancheli (1935-2019), whose music was sprawling, eruptive, disruptive, and highly charged. Saluzzi’s dedication reads: “Dear Maestro and friend, your wonderful music will always remain with me. It was a great honor to get to know you.” This and the other eight compositions on Albores are in a serious, probing, deeply reflective vein, drawing the listener in as if listening to an intense movement from a late Beethoven string quartet or Schubert piano sonata. Saluzzi is not dashing off tunes for mere entertainment, but making music for contemplation and aesthetic uplift. Beautiful, inspiring music; however, every rose has its thorn – the sound of the bandoneon, while rich and complex in its own way, also includes clicking and popping from the keys and buttons that may cause you to think your CD player is mistracking at times. If you can get past that, you will be richly rewarded.

Arvo Pärt: Miserere. Which Was the Son of…; Festina lente; Tribute to Caesar; Sequentia; The Deer’s Cry; Miserere; And I Heard a Voice…. Howard Arman, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Münchner Rundfunkorchester; oestereichisches ensemble fuer neue music. BR Klassik 900527.

One of the consolations of having to spend so much time at home because of the pandemic has been the opportunity to have more time to enjoy beautiful recordings such as this. The choral music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is always a joy to hear, and especially so when it is so expertly performed and recorded as it is on this new collection featuring the Bavarian Radio Chorus. And speaking of the pandemic, the liner notes explain the ‘Happy Birthday, Arvo Pärt!’ was the title of the first choir subscription concert of the 2020/21 season, at which Pärt’s 85th birthday was to have been celebrated – with the composer himself actually present. Indeed, it could have been a double birthday, since the Bavarian Radio Chorus is also celebrating its 75th anniversary. But everything turned out differently. Arvo Pärt stayed at home, as did the concert audience. The singers and their artistic director Howard Arman remained at their posts, albeit with the respectful social distancing required by the coronavirus. Also on hand behind their glass screens, were the sound engineer and his team, who recorded a significant part of the present CD edition.” Although it may have been a big disappointment not to have a live concert, in the end we music lovers at home have ended up being the beneficiaries, as the resultant recording, with all but the performance of Miserere being captured in studio settings rather than live concert performances, are extremely well recorded, making this release a sonic as well as musical delight. The excellent liner booklet that includes texts makes this a first-class release in every respect.

Glass: Les Enfants Terribles; Etudes Nos. 17 and 20. Katia and Marielle LaBéque, piano. Deutsche Grammophon 4855097.

Katia (b. 1950) and Marielle (b. 1952) Labèque are French sisters who have been making recordings and performing for more than five decades across a variety of genres, even including a stint with jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, with whom Katia was romantically linked for several years in the 1980s. The sisters  have played jazz, baroque, ragtime, and both mainstream and contemporary classical music. In 2005, they performed the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Double Concerto for two pianos, which the composer dedicated to the sisters. More recently, Glass requested that his longtime collaborator and arranger Michael Riesman put together a two-piano suite based on Glass’s opera Les Enfants Terribles. Those familiar with the music of Philip Glass know that he falls into the “minimalist” camp; however, this suite for two pianos is in places boisterous, dramatic, and exciting, played with flair and power, while at other times reflective and brooding, played with sensitivity and finesse. For a video glimpse of the sisters playing this music, you can catch a glimpse here. The program is rounded out with solo performances by Marielle of Glass’s Etude No. 17 and Katia of his Etude No. 20. The former is charming, expressive – Glass’s piano music shows him at his best – while the latter seems to reveal another dimension of expression that transcends minimalism, Glass’s music extending into another dimension and bringing the listener along for the ride.  

Songs from Home: Fred Hersch, piano. Palmetto PM2197.

This is another of those musical efforts that in some respects we owe to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jazz pianist Fred Hersch recorded this solo piano album in his own home on his own piano and is now sharing it with us for our enjoyment while we are still trying to get the upper hand in our ongoing battle with the coronavirus. This truly is an entertaining collection of music both familiar, with renditions of tunes including but not limited to  “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Wichita Lineman,” Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want,” and an original by Hersch. The piano he uses is not perfect, but the resultant sound just adds to the personal feel. The music is familiar, although played with a personal flair, and the overall feeling is one of great intimacy and direct communication. I played it one evening when my wife was at home, and from the other room she commented, “that CD you’re playing makes me feel like we are having a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant with a really good piano player taking requests and making sure everybody is having a memorable evening. That’s really nice – who is it?” Yes, Songs from Home truly is a feel-good CD, and by the time you get to the final cut, “When I’m Sixty-four,” you will have had a memorable listening experience thanks to the musical mastery and communicative spirit of Maestro Hersch.

Vida Breve: Bach/Busoni: Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor BWV 1004; Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor; Liszt: Funérailles from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses; Bagatelle sans tonalite; Busoni: Kammer-Fantasie über Carmen; Hough: Piano Sonata No. 4Vida Breve’: Traditional/Hough: Arirang. Steven Hough. Piano. Hyperion CDA68260.

As you might be led to infer by the titles of the CD itself and some of the selections, and the inclusion of the Chopin funeral march, this program by British pianist Stephen Hough is not all sweetness and light. That said, there is beauty to be found here, in the music, the playing, and in the recorded sound, which is a bit on the distant but warm side, which seems just right for the reflective mood that Hough seems to be inviting us to enter as we contemplate one of the bedrock certainties of life, as he explains: “People are often reluctant to talk about death… but in the world of the arts – in painting, literature, and music – death has always been a central subject resulting in the most exalted and inexhaustible expression, the image of a dead man hanging on a cross arguably the fundamental icon of Western culture… On this recording I wanted to explore some pieces that have this theme as part of their identity or inspiration.” But no, you do not have to ponder your mortality as you listen to this recording, for this is beautiful music that can be enjoyed for what it is, beautiful music, beautifully performed and recorded, bringing joy to your life for 78 beautiful minutes.   

Villa-Lobos: Choral Transcriptions. Mendelssohn: Lieder ohne Worte, Book 2-No.9 in E major; Bach: Prelude and Fugue No. 8 in E flat minor/D sharp minor BWV 853; Schumann: Traumerei; Bach: Fugue No. 1 in C major, BWV 846; Schubert: Ständchen; Bach: Fugue No. 21 in B flat major, BWV 866; Chopin: Waltz No. 7 in C sharp minor; Bach: Prelude No. 22 in B flat minor, BWV 867; Rachmaninov: Prelude in C sharp minor; Bach: Prelude no. 14 in F sharp minor, BWV 883; Massenet: Élégie; Bach: Fugue No. 5 in D major, BWV 874; Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 ‘Pathétique’ – II. Adagio cantabile; Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 (version for choir). Valentina Peleggi, São Paulo Symphony Choir. NAXOS 8.574286.

From 1933 to 1935, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) created a number of transcriptions of classical music compositions by other composers in arrangements for a cappella choir, especially of the Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. As you can see from the selections listed above, this recording by the São Paulo Symphony Choir under the direction of Italian conductor Valentina Peleggi places an emphasis on the latter, with a number of Bach selections seasoned with some selections by other familiar figures, and ending with a choral version of one of Villa-Lobos’s own Bach-inspired compositions, his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9, which the composer dedicated to American composer Aaron Copland. Most of the arrangements are for wordless choir; only the Schubert and the Massenet selection feature lyrics, which are presented in the liner booklet. Although some readers might be led to think of something like the old Swingle Singers recordings of Bach, this is something much different, as the choir is much larger and the arrangements are much more complex and nuanced than those of the Swingles (not to knock them, they were great fun). Having the Bach arrangements run as a thread throughout the program gives it weight and body, while having the other arrangements provides variety and color. Hearing a melody with which you are familiar from having heard on the piano (for me, it was the Rachmaninov Prelude in C sharp minor) sung by this large choir is a transcendent moment, sure to bring a shiver and a smile. This is a truly delightful recording that should appeal to a wide variety of music lovers. The recording quality is just fine, offering a sense of space without the overly resonant muddiness that mars some choral releases.  


Adam: La Filleule des fees, complete ballet (CD review)

Andrew Mogrelia, Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.574302-03 (2-disc set).

By John J. Puccio

Most classical music fans probably know French composer Adolphe Adam’s (1803-1856) ballet Giselle (1841) far better than they know his later ballet (1849) La Filleule des fees (“The Fairies’ Goddaughter”). Why? Is La Filleule really that much worse than Giselle? Well, as I remarked about a few other works by Adam, sometimes the public is right. While the listener comes away from Giselle humming memorable tunes, trying to remember any music at all from La Filleule might be more difficult. Like most of Adam’s work, La Filleule is pleasant enough as you’re listening to it but doesn’t exactly inspire one to return to it too soon.

Be that as it may, Adam filled La Filleule des fees with charming, comfortable music, almost all of it lightweight. Like most of Adam’s ballets, this one can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates ballet, although I would personally have preferred a single highlights disc rather than what we have, the complete ballet on two CDs. This set may be better suited to the completist who must own everything Adam ever wrote or own every ballet ever written.

The plot of La Filleule is similar to that of Giselle (and, a little, to that of Sleeping Beauty), if a bit more involved. It features a beautiful girl who has three godmothers, two of them good and one of them evil. There’s a handsome prince involved and fiendish machinations by the villainous godmother, the usual stuff of fairytales. And as with so many other ballets, it all seems to take forever to unfold.

Nevertheless, Maestro Mogrelia is an experienced hand at this sort of thing and treats it with a deft precision, leading the Queensland Symphony in a congenial 128 minutes or so of music. The story unfolds in a brief prologue and seven tableaux or scenes. Mogrelia does his best to keep these various set pieces flowing congruently in some kind of compatible whole. This is especially important as it’s all dance music and on disc it has to hold together aurally, without the benefit of dancers and scenery on stage. I just wish there was more substance to the ballet, more big, lavish pieces to keep our attention. I’m afraid my mind kept wandering as I listened because after the first twenty minutes or so it began sounding rather the same to me.

OK, I quibble. The second tableau (labeled simply “The Countryside”) warms up nicely and contains some delightful little ditties, which Maestro Mogrelia handles with an easy, airy touch. The music can be charming, if rather insubstantial. Certainly there is nothing wrong with light music; everything can’t be Bruckner or Mahler (and even Mahler is pretty lightweight by some standards). Anyway, Mogrelia keeps reminding us throughout the ballet that this is dance music, after all, and he does his best to provide enough contrasts of rhythm and changes of pace to help us visualize the festivities on stage.

Interestingly, the tableaux get shorter (perhaps more concise would be a better description) as the music goes on. The ballet’s first hour contains two tableaux and the second hour five. Maybe someone had to remind him that at the pace he was going in the first half, he’d have a five-hour work on his hands unless he got on with it. Who knows. In any case, the second half picks up a little more steam, and Mogrelia deals with it accordingly, with a particular effectiveness in the more dramatic parts. There is no doubt that the conductor’s nimble leadership contributes much to the overall strengths of the music, and the Queensland Symphony respond to his direction accordingly well

In short, ballet fans will probably love this set. Others may find it a tad tedious.

Producer Murray Khoury made the recording at the ABC Studio, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in February 1996. Naxos previously released the set in their premium-priced Marco Polo line and are now issuing it on their lower-cost Naxos label. The sound is pretty good, though not in the audiophile category. The frequency extremes--the highest highs and lowest lows--seem slightly deficient, but they’re adequate for their purpose. The overall sonic quality is smooth and balanced, with a slightly soft character that probably benefits the music. Dynamics, dimensionality, and transparency, too, are adequate. It’s easy listening sound.


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

My “Battery” Advice…

By Bryan Geyer

Re. “battery,” let’s nail the definition first. A single AA or AAA voltaic storage cell is actually not a “battery”; it’s a cell. A “battery” is a combination of two or more cells. So the sign at your local hardware store that directs you to the Energizer and Duracell AA and AAA “battery” display is technically in error. (That’s excusable, but the prices they post are not. You can do lots better at…

Yes, I realize that ramblings about AA and AAA (size) DC storage cells is distinctly outside my assigned specialty (audio nitty-gritty) here, but this is my 30th tech paper for this site, so host John Puccio (he of the chocolate digressions) has kindly allowed me some off-topic slack. The outcome of this liberty might well be more pertinent for you than anything in my previous 29 posts, so I say hey, listen up—this is stuff you need to know!

I’m an especially heavy user of both AA and AAA voltaic storage cells. However, I have not purchased any standard alkaline (LR6 class) AA or AAA cells since the late 1970s. Instead, I use only lithium (FR6 class) non-rechargeable AA and AAA cells (aka L91 & L92 cells). I do so because these lithium iron disulfide (LiFeS2) cells present a stack of compelling advantages over archaic alkaline (manganese dioxide) cells, not the least of which is the fact that their extended life generally makes them cost-competitive in all but a few benign applications. The service life advantage of a lithium AA cell—when compared to its alkaline equivalent—varies, dependent on how it will be utilized. In very low drain service (e.g., a TV remote control) the lithium battery will outlast an alkaline cell, but not by much. However, lithium longevity becomes appreciable when used in higher drain service; e.g. in a flashlight or lantern, or in photo strobes, RF transmitters, and in some portable audio equipment. There’s a real 2X to 3X service life advantage, as compared to an alkaline equivalent, in a great many common applications. For example, I’m seriously into photo-macrography (close-ups) and also long lens wildlife photography (mostly birds). These endeavors often involve using two or more electronic strobes that can support rapid and repetitive high-power bursts, and the related current drain is normally more than wimpy alkaline cells can sustain. This is especially so in colder weather because alkaline cell output declines rapidly when ambient temperatures approach +40˚F, whereas lithium AA or AAA cells will still retain most of their native room-temp. punch.

While long service life is nice, maybe more important is the fact that lithium L91 AA cells will NEVER LEAK, even when discharged and left in your equipment for ≥ 5 years. (Been there, done that.) Conversely, all alkaline cells (of any brand) will eventually expel their noxious corrosive electrolyte (it’s KOH, potassium hydroxide) when they’re at or near a depleted state.

Further, lithium AA cells are ~ 40% lighter than alkaline equivalents, based on size AA comparison. That’s a helpful benefit, especially when you consider packing sufficient back-up spares.

The best place to buy Energizer non-rechargeable AA-size lithium (L91 type) cells is Battery Junction; see…, where they’re $1.60 ea. + tax and shipping. The current Ace Hardware “walk in” price for Energizer Max alkaline AA cells (in an 8 pack) equates to $1.25 each + tax.

FR6-class lithium cells will retain ~ 94% of their capacity after 15+ years of storage, so it’s feasible to maintain extensive backup stock without concern. Alkaline cells degrade more rapidly. They’re specified to be storable for ~ 5 years if kept in cool dry environs, and then be down by only ~ 10%. However, I think that’s a rather idealistic projection.

The story is the same for AAA size cells. Energizer’s lithium (FR6 class) AAA cells are known as type L92, and their listing at Battery Junction is… The lithium cell benefits and characteristics that are noted above also apply for the smaller AAA (L92) size lithium cells.

Regarding Travel & Safety: The perilous warnings that you’ve heard about lithium battery fire hazards are real, but they trace entirely to the use of multi-cell rechargeable-type lithium-ion batteries, as commonly used today in cellular smart ’phones, digital cameras, and portable computers (also Teslas). A non-rechargeable (single use) L91/L92 type lithium (LiFeS2) cell does not pose the same fire threat. However, to assure that the federal safety mandate has clear and effective public compliance, ALL lithium power sources are now lumped as posing such fire hazard. As a consequence, you are not permitted to ship lithium cells without a related exterior warning sticker, and shipping by air (or by sea) is banned within the USA. Regardless, when you are traveling by commercial air service, you can then carry on equipment that utilizes lithium cells. This means that all of your battery-powered “carry on” gear (your cell ’phones, computers, digital cameras, strobes, flashlights, et al), whether using lithium cells or not, are welcome aboard the passenger compartment of the aircraft. Packing such devices in your checked luggage is permissible only if they are “…completely powered off and protected to prevent unintentional activation or damage.” This latter restriction is subject to the whim of the TSA agent on duty, so you’d best “carry on” your battery-operated devices. Further, all back-up stocks of uninstalled “…lithium metal and lithium ion batteries are always prohibited in checked baggage and must be placed in carry-on.” And: “When a carry-on bag is checked at the gate or at plane side, any spare lithium batteries must be removed from the bag and kept with the passenger in the aircraft cabin.” (On your person, not in your shoulder bag or briefcase.) Obviously, these last requirements don’t pertain to L91/L92 cells, but they directly apply to any backup rechargeable-type li-ion camera body batteries that you might have in your possession. The relevant TSA publication is here… (Issued 5/31/2018).

Re. NiMH Rechargeable Cells: In closing, please take note that many AA and AAA cell users rely on rechargeable nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) cells as their preferred alternate to alkaline cells. NiMH rechargeable storage cells work quite nicely for many applications (far, far better than the older nickel-cadmium rechargeable alternative), but the self-discharge rate for NiMH cells still makes them suspect for general usage. A fully charged NiMH cell reads about 1.2 Vdc when under load at the start (versus ~ 1.55 Vdc for a fresh alkaline cell), but it will sag to ~ 0.9 Vdc after just 6 to 8 weeks of passive storage. Conversely, a stock non-rechargeable L91 (AA) or L92 (AAA) lithium battery will read ~ 1.6 to 1.7 Vdc initially when under load regardless of whether it’s new or has been in storage for several years.

--BG (May 20, 2021)

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