Dec 28, 2022

Ruth Gipps: Orchestral Works, Volume 2 (CD review)

By Karl Nehring

Chanticleer, Op. 28; Concerto in D minor for Oboe and Orchestra, Op. 20; Death on the Pale Horse, Op. 25; Symphony No. 5, Op. 57. Juliana Koch, solo oboe; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rumon Gamba. Chandos CHAN 20161

Ruth Gipps (1921-1989) was an English composer who, although nearly unknown in the United States, was a major figure in British music, right up there with Vaughan Williams, Britten, and Holst, all of whose names are much more familiar to music classical lovers on this side of the pond.  She wrote five symphonies, seven concertos, and a number of chamber and choral works. I must confess to being about as guilty as anyone in this regard, as I have listened to a few recordings of some of her chamber works over the years, which I recall enjoying, but have never really followed up by digging more deeply into her catalog. By the way, a previous Chandos release, CHAN 20078 from 2018, includes recordings of her Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 plus a couple of shorter pieces performed the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Maestro Gamba. Although not labeled as such, it effectively serves as Volume 1 to the Volume 2 disc under consideration here.

The program opens with Chanticleer, a concert overture that begins brashly and steps along briskly. Perhaps because of the way it plays off the brass against the strings, or perhaps because of its generally impish mood, the music seems to nod a bit toward that of Malcolm Arnold, another prominent British composer. Arnold was, by the way, a contemporary and friend of Gipps, even composing a piece titled Variations for Orchestra on a theme of Ruth Gipps, which was first performed by the Chanticleer Orchestra conducted by none other than Ruth Gipps. So perhaps the hints of Arnoldian sonority are more than purely imaginary after all. In any event, the program is certainly off to a lively and pleasant start.

Given that Gipps’s chosen instrument was the oboe, it should come as no surprise that she would compose a concerto for that instrument. Her concerto is cast in the usual three-movement form, with two quicker outer movements surrounding a slower inner movement. I do not mean this at all disparagingly when I say that it sounds like what one would expect a fine British oboe concerto to sound like: lively, pleasant, tuneful, pastoral in spots. In a word, delightful. There follows Death on the Pale Horse, which from its title might seem to promise frightening and fearful passages, but that is not the case. This is death on a pale horse, after all, not a technicolor stallion. The music is moody, unsettled, perhaps disturbing – but in a reflective, not bombastic way.

The program closes with the major work of this set, Gipps’s Symphony No. 3, which she composed in 1965. It is in four movements, I Moderato; II. Theme and Variations; Scherzo; IV. Finale. The music throughout the symphony is rich in in texture. By that I mean not that it is thick in terms of scoring, but rather it is rich in terms of color and musical ideas. Gipps seems to use all the sections of the orchestra, but not in the sense of making it sound like a concerto for orchestra. The impression is of a musical tapestry woven of many colors and textures. The overall mood is somewhat subdued, reflective, quietly restless. In the end, the work leaves a pleasant but not particularly memorable impression. For all its beauty and color, the symphony never seems to gain any real momentum. At any moment, the work sounds something like music that Vaughan Williams might have written; however, the symphonies of Vaughan Williams have a dramatic flow, a dynamic structure, while this music never quite seems to develop in the same way. Still, it is a decidedly pleasant, well-crafted symphony, very much in that familiar English pastoral mode. On the whole, this is an appealing release for fans of British music that should help to increase recognition for the considerable talents of Ruth Gipps. Let’s hope to see a Volume 3 in the foreseeable future.

Dec 25, 2022

On LED Flashlights…

By Bryan Geyer

The innate connection between a flashlight and “Audio Tech Talk” becomes apparent as soon as you try to inspect any part of your sound system that lies beyond the front panel. In recognition, here’s some personal guidance about the most vital tool you’ll ever need: A modern single-cell LED flashlight.

First, learn why the light emitting diode (LED), a semiconductor device that dates to the late 1960s, didn’t become abundant in flashlights until some 30 years later. What a curious delay! What happened? And what changed? Well, a modern “white light” LED won’t fire until it sees a threshold bias of about 3.2 volts minimum, and 4 volts or more works better. But a fresh single cell battery produces only ~ 1.2 to 1.7 volts, dependent on its chemistry (see footnote*), so multiple batteries would be needed to fire a solitary white light LED. Clearly, using more batteries than before didn’t advance the state of flashlight design, so miniature incandescent lamps endured. Then, barely before year 2k arrived, integrated circuit “boost chips” appeared. These new silicon ICs could efficiently elevate the energy from a single storage cell to the operating level needed to fire a white light LED. The basic design concept was old, but implementing it in IC form was breakthrough genius. The entire boost function, consisting of the surface-mount chip plus some tiny passive peripherals, could now be packed into a bundle smaller than the size of two stacked dimes. A practical single AA cell LED flashlight was suddenly viable, and its launch assured immense advantage over anything using an incandescent bulb. A lone LED could now provide more light (with selectable lower levels), draw less current, offer high resistance to shock and vibration, and assure decades (not hours) of maintenance-free service life—all while selling at competitive mass-market prices.

Product development was intense, with many players engaged. Some failed, some flourished, and several smart trans-Pacific sources became dominant. There’s now a wide array of LED flashlights and multi-LED lanterns on the market. Many designs serve niche applications, but my intent here is to feature a basic everyday flashlight—a modestly priced model that’s appropriate for general purpose use and practical in-pocket carry. A flashlight that…

…is short (≤ 3.1" long), skinny (≤ 0.75" diameter), and uses only a single AA size cell.

…is blindingly bright at full output, with multiple lower levels to conserve current drain.

…has long throw capability, with enough side spill to see the borders of your path at night.

…is obvious in operation, with a single butt-end control button for all switching functions.

…offers instinctive battery exchange: unscrew head and replace AA cell, button end up.

…has solid mechanical integrity; built to withstand the rigors of moderate abuse.

…if supplied with a pocket clip, such clip must be readily removable and leave no evidence.

… meets the IP68 waterproof standard (up to 30 minutes at depths of ≤ 2 meters).

…is cheap enough stash extras (toolboxes/cars/bikes/garage) and give as gifts.

There aren’t a lot of candidates that meet all of my objectives. Many come close, then fail the “side spill” criteria. That’s because flashlight marketers always hype throw (range), and inexperienced buyers focus on that feature; they haven’t yet grasped the importance of spill (beam spread). The two parameters (throw and spill) are mutually exclusive; more of one means less of the other. A very tight beam will deliver impressive reach, but hot spot fixation invites personal risk when you can’t see the edges of a narrow path from just one step away.

My pick as a good “everyday” single AA cell flashlight is the Fenix E12 Version 2.0. It meets all of my criteria, and you can buy it here: https://www.fenix-store.com, or here: https://www.batteryjunction.com The Fenix E12 V2.0 flashlight offers three selectable outputs: 5, 30, and 160 Lumens. It uses a cool white LED, and has an ultra-thin (3mm) optical front lens—all very desirable. The lowest level is appropriate for checking your watch in a darkened theater or finding a keyhole at night. The mid-level setting, 30 Lumens, assures a practical balance between output and capacity. It’s great for all of your “fix it” tasks, also for walking at night. The full 160 Lumen output provides a brilliant spotlight, but keep it brief! Apply only in 10 to 20 second transient bursts. At this level, supply current is consumed at a rapid rate, and there’s significant internal dissipation (heating). As with many LED flashlights, these output levels are all electronically regulated, so the lighting intensity stays constant; it won’t droop as the AA cell ages. Full expiration becomes suddenly apparent; it’s dependent on the drain that’s required for the level you’ve selected. When the supply current is insufficient for a given level, the output will drop to the next lower level. When it’s too low to maintain the regulated 5 Lumen minimum, the output drops to a useless glow, then goes out.

The Fenix E12 V2.0 flashlight comes with an attached (by compression) pocket clip that I dislike, so I trash it. This is easy to do with the aid of pliers—just grab the clip and pull it off. It will readily detach and leave no evidence that it was once mounted on the flashlight body. This flashlight is so small and light that a pocket clip isn’t of practical benefit; however, removing the clip will then expose a perfectly cylindrical body, and round stuff that’s not restrained can roll off flat surfaces. If this annoys you, consider mating a wrist strap to a rear lug. Straps that have a small pigtail loop at the end will pass through the lug without impeding the control button.

BATTERY OPTIONS: AA cells are readily available in the variants (3) noted below*, but you’d do well to reject the use of alkaline (manganese dioxide) LR6 cells. These conventional cells are very popular, but too risky to merit informed consideration. When an alkaline AA cell approaches expiration (output ≤ 0.7 volts), it will progressively destabilize and form a caustic compound (KOH, potassium hydroxide) that will penetrate the outer shell and attack anything that’s within reach. The consequent damage can be severe. This is an inherent flaw—all alkaline cells present this same inevitable hazard—so don’t use alkaline AA cells. Instead, select either of the other options. I use the non-rechargeable lithium-iron disulfide Class FR6 cells, e.g., Energizer’s “Ultimate”**. Others prefer the rechargeable nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) Class HR6 cells. Both options are safe, don’t leak, and work well. Non-rechargeable lithium AA cells exhibit extended operating life, perform well in cold ambients (alkaline cells don’t), weigh about 40% less than the alkaline equivalent, and can tolerate long term (10 years) passive storage with minimal (5%) net self-discharge. Buy in bulk, stow for use as needed.

* The nominal AA cell output voltage, when fresh (or freshly charged), is…

…1.5 volt for a non-rechargeable alkaline (manganese dioxide) IEC Class LR6 cell.

…1.2 volt for a rechargeable nickel metal-hydride IEC Class HR6 cell.

…1.6 to 1.7 volt for a non-rechargeable lithium-iron disulfide IEC Class FR6 cell, e.g., Energizer “Ultimate” AA cells.

IEC = International Electrotechnical Commission

 ** I buy on-line, from Battery Junction; refer… https://www.batteryjunction.com/energizer-aa-ln91-24pk-battery.html

BG (December 2022)


Dec 21, 2022

A Few More from KWN

 By Karl W Nehring

Just a week ago I presented an annotated list of my favorite recordings from 2022. As this year comes to a close, I’d like to take the opportunity to say a few quick words about several recordings that made quite an impression on me over this past year but that for various reasons to be discussed below did not get included in that list. Here we go!

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 in E minor; English Folk Songs; Symphony No. 8 in D minor; England, my England. Martyn Brabbins, conductor; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus; Roderic Williams, baritone. Hyperion CDA68396

There’s a simple and straightforward reason why this one did not show up on my list – I overlooked it. When I realized I had done so, I felt terrible, for it truly was one of my favorites of the year. What’s worse, when I finished my list, I was amazed that there were no symphonic recordings on it. Well, there should been. This recording led by British conductor Martyn Brabbins (b. 1959) belongs right up there in any discussion of the best recordings of RVW’s symphonies. If you have never heard the Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 6, this new release from Hyperion would be a perfect introduction, with an excellent account of Symphony No. 8 as a bonus. Add to that the splendid engineering and a recommendation falls right into place. Review can be found here: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2022/10/vaughan-williams-symphony-no-6-in-e.html

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1-7; Tapiola Op. 112; Three Late Fragments. Klaus Mäkelä, Oslo Philharmonic. Decca 455 2256 (4 CDs)

This fine Sibelius set is not something I overlooked; instead, it was on my list until the very end, just missing the cut along with a couple of other recordings when I felt as though the list was just becoming too long. I had planned to keep the list at the usual ten and wound up with a baker’s dozen. The young Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä (b. 1996) caused quite a stir earlier this year when Decca released this set of then complete Sibelius symphonies conducted by a relatively unknown young man in his mid-twenties. As usual, there were mixed reactions, with some reviewers just not being able to get past Mäkelä’s age and perceived lack of credentials, others lavishing heady praise on an outstanding new release. I would not have bothered to say anything more about it had not a prominent American critic who is prolifically active on YouTube (and who does an amazingly good job of generating interest in classical music) just ripped this release a new orifice – but not by citing its musical qualities. Instead, his attack focused on the young age of conductor Klaus Mäkelä. Hmmm. My “keeper” box set has been the Vanska/Lahti on BIS; however, as good as the engineering is on that set, the Decca team has surpassed it. The sound is smooth, clear, and natural. No, I’ve not heard every Sibelius set out there, but I’ve heard a number of them, and a whole bunch of individual releases – this set has the best overall sound I’ve yet encountered. With excellent performances, superb engineering, and some truly rare music, this is a set worthy of consideration by Sibelius fans. Review here: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2022/10/new-releases-no-37.html

The following releases are not recordings that I reviewed in 2022. In fact, none is a recording that was released in 2022. No, these are recordings that have really made an impression on me in 2022, recordings that I am still trying to take in. Perhaps you too will find them of interest.

Per Nørgård: 8 Symphonies. CD 1) Symphonies Nos. 3 & 7. Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Concert Choir, conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. CD 2) Symphony No. 1 “Sinfonia austera” op. 13; Symphony No. 8. Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Sakari Oramu. CD 3) Symphony No. 6 “At the End of the Day”; Symphony No. 2 – In One Movement. Oslo Philharmonic, conducted by John Storgårds. CD 4) Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5. Oslo Philharmonic, conducted by John Storgårds. Dacapo 8.204002

This compilation was released as a boxed set in 2016. What we have here are eight different symphonies conducted by three different conductors and three different orchestras. The time period covered stretches from 1953 (when work on Symphony No. 1 was begun) through 2011 (when Symphony No. 8 was completed). This is complex music, but not forbidding. As I began listening to it, I found myself bccoming excited – Nørgård was inviting me to enter a new musical realm, much like Mahler had invited me 50 years before. I am going to need to spend much more time with this set to even begin to feel as though I can confidently navigate my way around Nørgård’s sound world, but I am looking forward to continuing the journey that I have started. What a fascinating composer!

Martinû: Symphonies. CD 1) Symphonies Nos.1 & 5. CD 2) Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6 (Fantasies symphoniques). CD 3) Symohonies 3 & 4. Bryden Thompson, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. CHANDOS Classics CHAN 10316(3)


When classical music fans talk about composers of symphonies, the name Martinû is not likely to pop up right away, if at all. That is a shame, for the man wrote some marvelous music, with his six symphonies standing as prime examples. This set led by the late Scottish conductor Bryden Thomson (1928-1991) is well performed and well recorded. Originally released in 1991 and then digitally remastered in 2005, it is now available at a fairly low price. If you have never heard this  music, this set would be a great way to introduce yourself to something different and delightful.




And now for something completely different. The final recording I am going to mention is not a classical release. Although I have reviewed jazz recordings in the past, arguing that some jazz is akin to chamber music, this CD is not a jazz recording either. No, it is a (brace yourself) rock recording. What’s worse, it’s from a band that a lot of folks have not heard of, and whose recordings are not always easy to track down.

That band is Low, and the specific recording is titled Things We Lost in the Fire, which was released in 2001. The nucleus of the band was a married couple, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker; sadly, Mimi was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020 from which she passed away at age 55 on November 5, 2022. I had barely started listening to Low when I learned of her death, which came as a total shock. A friend of mine who had played in a band that had toured briefly with Low some years back recommended this album as a good place to start to seriously delve into their sound.

From the first time I heard it, I was transfixed. They sing and play straight to the heart. I became obsessed with them, listening to their music via streaming and searching out videos of their live performances on YouTube, which of course you could do should you be so inclined. Over and over again over the past couple of months I have found myself returning to this album, which somehow speaks directly to me. Should you ever actually give this album a listen, or watch one of their performances on YouTube, perhaps you’ll be as entranced as I am. Perhaps you’ll think I’m nuts. In any event, enjoy this holiday season, and be grateful for the gift of music. You can hear a podcast about the making of the album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4EtEA-v4bU

KWN

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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


Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa