Oct 30, 2022

Hilary Hahn: Eclipse (CD review)

Music of Dvorak, Ginastera, and Sarasate. Hilary Hahn, violin; Andres Orzco-Estrada, Frankfurt Radio Symphony. DG 486 2383.

By John J. Puccio

Hilary Hahn was probably born with a violin in her hand. Well, that’s close. She began playing the violin before she was four years old and made her concert stage debut at age eleven with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. She has played with virtually every major symphony orchestra since then, recorded a number of albums (mostly for DG and Sony), and won an appropriate number of awards. So, yes, any new recording from her is a welcome event.

On the current recording she turns her prodigious talent to the works of Dvorak (Violin Concerto), Ginastera (Violin Concerto), and Sarasate (Carmen Fantasy). She says she chose these three composers because she wanted to do a “deep dive in the Dvorak Violin Concerto,” has an “obsession with the tantalizing, magical weirdness of Ginastera’s Violin Concerto,” and has an “inhabitation of Sarastate’s spirited Carmen Fantasy.”

The program begins with the Violin Concerto in A minor, op. 53 by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). He wrote it in 1879, intending it for the eminent Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, but Joachim, a noted traditionalist, objected to a number of elements in the concerto and never played it in public.

Anyhow, Dvorak begins the concerto with an Allegro ma non troppo (fast, but not too much), the "ma non troppo" marking used in all three movements, and the violin entering almost immediately. Joachim may have felt that the orchestra dominated the proceedings too much, but Dvorak made some revisions before premiering it. Here, both soloist and orchestra share equal billing, with Ms. Hahn’s virtuosic playing heading up a spirited account of the music. It’s perhaps a bit intimidating compared to, say, Itzhak Perlman’s rendering for EMI/Warner, who is a tick more relaxed though no slower. Still, Ms. Hahn gives us a bracing interpretation, and it may be enough for some listeners, especially fans, to enjoy.

The slow central section, the Adagio ma non troppo, is the impassioned heart of the work. Again, Dvorak's marking indicates he didn't want the soloist or orchestra to take things too slowly, possibly not to make the music too sentimental. The movement became so popular that concert violinists often perform it as a stand-alone item. It’s in this slower section that Ms. Hahn shows us her mastery of subtlety and nuance, with a lovely handling of the more delicate aspects of the movement.

In the Finale Dvorak returns to the tuneful Czech folk melodies of the opening movement, and Ms. Hahn takes special delight in them. Still, I did not find Ms. Hahn’s overall reading quite as light-footed, as nimble, as dexterous as those of Perlman (EMI/Warner), Mutter (DG), or Barton Pine (Avie), so I could not count it among the best recorded performances available. Still, there is no question it’s a formidable version, vigorous and heady.

In addition to the Dvorak concerto, Ms. Hahn performs the Violin Concerto, op. 30 by the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983). For me, this was the highlight of the album. The piece is divided into eleven short segments, each of them a little weirder than the previous one, and each of them rendered with consummate skill. It’s as though Ms. Hahn is relishing every bizarre moment of the score, and she communicates her enthusiasm easily to the listener. The Dvorak may be the album’s draw, but the Ginastera is the keeper.

Ms. Hahn closes the show with a genuine show-stopper, the Carmen Fantasy by the Spanish violinist, conductor, and composer Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908). It is, of course, a well-known violin fantasy in five brief movements, adapted from the music of Bizet’s opera Carmen. The piece requires a good deal of delicacy from the violinist as well as an abundance of musical gymnastics, all of which Ms. Hahn negotiates with ease.

Producers Christoph Clasen and Hilary Hahn and engineer Philipp Knop recorded the album at hr-Sendesaal and Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany in April and June 2021. The miking has nicely captured the violin in regard to the orchestra, not too far in front and centrally positioned. The violin tone is also realistically rendered, if a touch bright at the upper end. So is the orchestra, which can be very dynamic but somewhat forward and, at times, a trifle intrusive. To my ears it’s more of a “hi-fi” sound than a purely natural one.


Oct 26, 2022

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 in E minor (CD review)

Also, 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.

2022 marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of certainly the greatest British composer and arguably one of the world’s greatest composers ever, one who often goes overlooked but surely belongs right up there with the very best ever to have composed music, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Except for his Tallis Fantasia and The Lark Ascending, you will almost never encounter any of his music on a concert program here in the USA, which is a real shame. Thank goodness we have recordings! For example, there are excellent boxed CD sets of his complete nine symphonies available at remarkably affordable prices conducted by Slatkin (my favorite overall), Previn (wonderful – my other favorite), Boult (the touchstone), and Bakels (surprisingly good). There are also of course other individual recordings of his symphonies, concertos, chamber music, songs, etc. that are well worth seeking out, many of which have been reviewed here at Classical Candor and can easily be looked up by scrolling down to the Vaughan Williams link in our list of composers.

This new release led by British conductor Martyn Brabbins (b. 1959) belongs right up there in any discussion of the best recordings of RVW’s symphonies. The opening measures of Symphony No. 6 explode with energy, but the sound is well balanced from top to bottom in terms of frequency response as well as side-to-side and front-to-back in terms of stereo imaging. From the drama of the opening the symphony proceeds fairly straightforwardly, at least in terms of structure, with a Moderato second movement, and an energetic Scherzo third movement. Then there comes the final movement, which the composer designates with the unusual marking of Epilogue: Moderato. The liner notes point out that when the symphony was first performed, back in 1948 when the composer was 75, the “perceived nihilism” of the quiet last movement was thought by many in the public to be a reaction to or symbol of nuclear annihilation in the wake of the development and deployment of the atomic bomb in 1945 – a view that Vaughan Williams denied.

It is a unique symphony – explosively powerful opening, eerily quiet ending, but beautiful from start to finish – and Brabbins, the BBC Orchestra, and Hyperion’s engineering team do it full justice throughout. Brabbins never seems to rush, never seems to drag, never seems to underline or exaggerate, yet the music speaks with dramatic power when need be and whispered nuance in those placid yet in some ways unsettling final minutes.

Symphony No. 8 is a lighter work, but a delightfully entertaining one, full of lively high spirits. As a special note of contrast: while the final movement of No. 6 consists of ten quiet, mysterious minutes, the final movement of No. 8 consists of five lively minutes with plenty of boisterous brass and lively percussion – a treat for the ears as performed with great gusto by Brabbins and his BBC forces.

In addition to the two symphonies, Hyperion has included some bonus musical material. The three English folk songs that come between the two symphonies are sung by the BBC Symphony Chorus. These were probably composed around 1912 but were never published; in fact, the performances on this release are almost certainly the first time these arrangements have ever been heard. There is nothing profound here – these are folk songs, after all – but the music is fun and the songs make for a pleasant interlude between the two symphonies. Following the performance of Symphony No. 8, the program is closed out by England, my England, a choral song for baritone, chorus, and orchestra, which Vaughan Williams composed in 1941 for a BBC radio broadcast. As the liner notes point out, “it displays a rare nationalism in Vaughan Williams’s output – an extended tune of quasi-Elgarian stamp, candid in its expression, and sorely needed at the time early in World War II when Britain stood alone.”

Of course, the main interest for the majority of music lovers will be the two symphonies, both of which have been served exceedingly well by both the musicians and the engineers. 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.

Bonus Book Recommendation:

Beauty and Sadness: Mahler’s 11 Symphonies by David Vernon (Candle Row Press, 2022).

Dr. David Vernon is a British academic and author with a passion for music, language, and literature. He has previously published a book on Wagner (Disturbing the Universe: Wagner's Musikdrama), has recently completed a book on Nabokov that will be published soon (Ada to Zembla: The Novels of Vladimir Nabokov), and is currently working on a book about Beethoven’s string quartets. His book on Mahler’s symphonies provides a deep dive into these 11 works (the 10 numbered symphonies plus Das Lied von der Erde). As you might expect, Vernon considers how events in Mahler’s life Mahler might have influenced his compositions, as do many other authors who have written about Mahler’s music, but he also goes on to explore many more aspects of Mahler’s symphonic achievements.

As Vernon explains in his introduction: “No two Mahler symphonies are alike, but there is a remarkable continuity and connection between the eleven, both a spirit and a thread. Each takes you into a new condition, a new world and realm of feeling, a detachment and engagement that lasts for an hour, an hour and a half. This book contains imaginative explorations of all eleven of them. Each chapter proceeds from a discussion of the contextual, personal, historical, cultural, philosophical and musical rudiments which forged the symphony; it then delves more deeply and systematically into the work itself, movement by movement.” And delve Vernon does, diving deeply into both the background of each symphony and the music itself – discussing the symphony as a whole and the individual movements.

His writing is rich, complex, and erudite. This is not a book that you can just casually skim through, because Vernon’s analyses are complex and his language is sophisticated. However, Beauty and Sadness is not at all dry and academic; far from it – it is passionate and personal, clearly written from Vernon’s deep love for Mahler’s music and his heartfelt desire to interest others in Mahler’s remarkable music. To that end, he even provides an appendix with his recommendations of other books on Mahler’s life and music that he has found to be “among the most captivating and beneficial.” Having myself read the first two books he recommends (Gustav Mahler: An Introduction to His Music by Deryck Cooke and Mahler by Michael Kennedy) early in my own discovery of Mahler’s music, I can vouch for those  recommendations. But for the passionate Mahler fan eager to dive ever more deeply into Mahler’s music, Beauty and Sadness, which is available both as a relatively inexpensive paperback and an even more inexpensive e-book, is a richly rewarding resource.


Oct 23, 2022

Transmission (CD review)

Music of Bloch, Korngold, Bruch, and Ravel. Edgar Moreau, cello; Michael Sanderling, Luzerner Sinfonieorchester. Erato 0190295105105.

By John J. Puccio

“I’ve always had a profound love for the music of the great Jewish composers and for compositions on Jewish themes. With the invaluable support of the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester and chief conductor Michael Sandlering I’m proud to lend my voice today to the vital task of transmitting this universal cultural legacy.”  --Edgar Moreau

The French classical cellist Edgar Moreau was born in Paris in 1994, began studying the cello at the age of four, and from the age of sixteen went on to win awards, competitions, and accolades from just about everybody. “Transmission” marks the seventh or eighth record album on which Moreau has appeared.

As he said in the opening quote, Mr. Moreau has a love for the music of great Jewish composers and presents five such pieces for cello on the present album, starting with the little three-movement suite From Jewish Life (1924-25) by the Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959). The work’s three sections are like little tone poems with the self-explanatory titles “Prayer: Andante moderato,” “Supplication,” and “Jewish Song.” Moreau demonstrates his love for the music by presenting each section in emotionally passionate yet lyrical terms. The mellow, easygoing sound of the cello naturally makes the most of the music’s pensive, sometimes brooding moods.

Next is the Cello Concerto in C, Op. 37 by the Austrian-born American composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). Korngold is perhaps best known for his film scores, and the Cello Concerto is no exception. He wrote it for the 1946 movie Deception starring Bette Davis and then later expanded it for the concert stage. If you enjoy Korngold’s movie music (Anthony Adverse, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, King’s Row), you’ll notice a similarity to those grand-scale productions. Moreau, conductor Michael Sanderling, and the Lucerne Symphony players give it their best Hollywood all, while still maintaining the esteem of the classical stage.

After that is one of the several more-famous pieces on the album, Kol Nidrei, by the German composer and conductor Max Bruch (1838-1920). “Kol Nidrei” translates as “All vows,” the opening words of a Jewish prayer sung on the eve of Yom Kippur. After the somewhat swashbuckling nature of the Korngold piece, the Kol Nidrei is a sweet contrast, Moreau playing it in an affectionate, meditative style that never strays too close to sentimentality.

The penultimate selection on the program is another renowned work, Schelomo - Rhapsodie hebraique (1915-16), by the aforementioned Ernest Bloch. The central figure in the piece is King Solomon, although a booklet comment by writer Reinmar Wagner notes that Bloch probably wasn’t so much referring to Solomon as the King but as “a preacher in the desert, who bemoans the vanity of the world and reflects on the transience of life.” Under Moreau and company, the tale unfolds with a clear-eyed vigor.

The album concludes with 2 Melodies hebraiques (1910) by the French composer, pianist, and conductor Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Ravel included the Melodies as a part of a larger work in which he characterized the music of various peoples of the world, the Melodies becoming some of the most-popular pieces in the work. Moreau captures the color, tranquillity, and charm of the music without indulging in some of the histrionics we’ve sometimes heard from other musicians. He appears to have a keen vision of what he wants to convey in his performances and does so handsomely.

Producers Alain Lanceron and Martin Sauer and engineer Julian Schwenkner made the recording in Lucerne, Switzerland in October 2020. Obviously, the cello plays a prominent place in the sound field. Yet it’s not so forward as to dwarf the accompanying ensemble. While there is perhaps a degree of depth lacking in the sound, as well as its being somewhat soft on details, it is nevertheless easy on the ears and compliments nicely the soulful tone of much of the music. A few instances of impressively deep bass help, too.


Oct 19, 2022

Víkingur Ólafsson: From Afar (CD review)

Bach: Christe, du Lamm Gottes, BWV 619 (Arr. G. Kurtág); Schumann: Study in Canonic Form, Op. 56 No. 1; Bach: Adagio from Sonata for Solo Violin in C major (Arr. Víkingur Ólafsson); Kurtág: Harmonica (Hommage á Borsody László) (From Játékok / Book 3); Bartók: Three Hungarian Folksongs from Csìk; Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 116, No. 4; Kurtág: A Voice in the Distance (From   / Book 5); Birgisson: Where Life and Death May Dwell (Icelandic Folk Song); Bach: Trio Sonata No. 1, BWV 525: 1. Allegro moderato (arr. G. Kurtág); Kaldalóns: Ave María (Arr. Víkingur Ólafsson); Kurtág: Little Chorale (From Játékok / Book 1); Mozart: Laudate Dominum (Arr. Víkingur Ólafsson); Kurtág: Sleepily (From Játékok / Book 1); Schumann: Träumerei Op. 15, No. 7; Kurtág: Flowers We Are (From Játékok / Book 7); Adès: The Branch (Az Ág); Kurtág: Twittering (From Játékok / Book 1); Schumann: Vogel als Prophet Op. 82, No. 7; Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 116, No. 5; Kurtág: Scraps of a Colinda Melody – Faintly Recollected (Hommage à Farkas Ferenc) (From Játékok / Book 3). Víkingur Ólafsson, grand piano, CD1; upright piano, CD2. Deutsche Grammophon 486 1681.

By Karl W. Nehring

Having enjoyed and reviewed some previous albums by Víkingur Ólafsson (b.1984) in which he played music by Bach, Philip Glass, Debussy, and Rameau, all of which were really first-class releases in every way, I fully expected this new release by the young Icelandic pianist to be a good one; however; I was not fully prepared for what a delightfully rewarding release this unusual two-disc album turned out to be. As high as my expectations might have been, they were surpassed. This is an unusual album with an unusual backstory that involves Kurtág meeting the venerable Hungarian composer György Kurtág (b. 1926), whose music the pianist had been first introduced to by a recording given him by his father in the late 1990’s. More than 20 years later, much to his surprise, Ólafsson received an unexpected message while on tour: “György Kurtág would love to meet you while you are in Budapest for your upcoming concert.”

Although he was at first intimidated by the thought of meeting what he regarded as such a “fiercely intellecfual musical thinker and formidable teacher,” Ólafsson soon found Kurtág to be warm and welcoming, inviting the younger man to play for him on a beautiful Steinway that had belonged to Kurtág’s late wife. About this experience, Ólafsson recounts “I soon began playing the music that came to mind: Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Bartok, Icelandic folk songs. Kurtág would comment, make suggestions, tell a story – always full of insight and inspiration. In what felt like 15 minutes, two hours had gone by.” Later, after more of his routine of practice, travel, concerts, and meetings, Ólafsson found himself recalling that evening in Budapest, recalling “I felt like I had been reacquainted with some musical essence, and it gave me a feeling of lightness and joy. Wanting to write him a letter to thank him, I found myself at the piano instead, drawing up a map of works with Kurtág’s own music as a compass. The result is this album.”

The program on From Afar consists of 22 tracks that Ólafsson has chosen along the lines suggested his account above – some Bach, Mozart, Bartok, Icelandic folk songs (Haydn didn’t make the cut), et al., along with a generous helping of Kurtág. The musical selections for the most part are brief, many lasting less than two minutes. Although the brevity of the tracks and variety of the composers might seem to portend a crazy quilt of styles and moods, the overall impression given off by the album as the program moves along from track to track is actually quite consistent. From the opening brief snippet of Bach, which is calm and reflective, Ólafsson seems to be inviting us to join him in contemplating the beauty, peace, and joy to be found among the 88 keys of the piano. As he puts it, “throughout the album, there are intimate conversations and messages from afar – closely knit canons, transcriptions and dedications, as well as distant echoes of nearly forgotten, ancient melodies. And like a trail of shiny little stones in a moonlit forest, there are the works of Kurtág: his transcriptions of Bach and his on ever-growing selection of piano works, Játékok, or Games. In these works it is clear that Kurtág’s primary method of inquiry in the world of musical ideas is the same as that of the child: play.” Sprinkled among the works of the works of the composers of the past, these miniatures by Kurtág do indeed bring an element of playfulness to the proceedings -- never in an ironic or mocking way, but rather by offering upbeat, encouraging interjections from time to time.

As I have suggested above, intimacy and playfulness are two defining characteristics of the music on From Afar. And that music has been recorded not once, but twice, for this release, as Ólafsson explains: “This album contains two recordings of the same music, one made on a Steinway concert grand and the other made on an upright with a layer of felt covering the strings, a permanent soft pedal… For me as an artist, nothing will ever replace the large, resplendent canvas and unlimited colours of the grand piano, but the familial sincerity of the upright should not be underestimated. There is a confidentiality, a whispering intimacy to the sound of the upright piano that I love to experiment with. In this recording, the microphones are so close you can hear the keys depressed and released, the pedals creak, even the pianist breathing. I want the sound to reach the listener as if sitting on the piano bench with me… The upright piano interpretation as well. Its percussive materiality and the absence of forgiving overtones demand new timings and textures, a different attention to structure.” So yes, these really are two different albums. Each has a different sort of intimacy, a different sort of playfulness. My guess is that most listeners will give the Steinway disc the most attention; however, I hope they will not neglect the upright disc, for it is utterly fascinating and well worth serious and repeated listening. There really is something to be said about the “familial sincerity” of Ólafsson’s upright piano, especially when it is recorded in such a way that it seems to have been transported directly into your listening room – with the pianist himself in tow.

Ólafsson’s liner notes are both interesting and informative. In addition to the background essay material from which the excerpts above were taken, he also includes commentary on the musical selections included in the album. The title of the album might be From Afar, but the music, the sound, the liner notes, and the photography all work together to draw us close to the music and Ólafsson’s love for it. This is an interesting, involving, and endearing album that further enhances the growing reputation of this supremely talented and insightful master of the keyboard.


Oct 16, 2022

Violin Concertos by Black Composers Through the Centuries (CD review)

Music of Bologne, Lafitte, Coleridge-Taylor, and Price. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Encore Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Hege, conductor; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jonathon Heyward, conductor. Cedille Records CDR 90000 214.

By John J. Puccio

Cedille Records reached back into their archives for several of the items on this album and recorded a brand-new selection to wrap it up. Moreover, considering it represents the work of four different composers, it offers a generous playing time. It helps, of course, that each of the violin concertos offered here is fairly brief, but, still, we get over seventy-three minutes of music. And fine music it is, too. American violinist Rachel Barton Pine performs the first three pieces with the Encore Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Hege conducting, and the final piece with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jonathon Heyward conducting.

Obviously, the purpose of the album is to showcase the talents of black composers through the past few centuries, composers who might otherwise go unnoticed or whose light may begin to fade without enough public exposure. It’s a delightful album, the selections arranged chronologically from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries, and it provides much for one to enjoy.

The first item on the program is the Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2, a piece written in 1775 by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799). Bologne was a French violinist, conductor, and composer whom the public considered the greatest violinist in France at the time; in fact, his fans called him “The Black Mozart.” (Ms. Barton-Pine notes, however, that he was older than Mozart by almost ten years and probably inspired the Austrian composer; therefore Mozart should rightly be called “The White Bologne.”) Whatever, Bologne’s concerto is charming, and Ms. Barton-Pine seems to enjoy it immensely.

After a typically lengthy classical introduction the violin enters sweetly, almost tenderly, and continues that way throughout. While it is not music that sticks long in memory, it is music to impress one at the time of listening, which it certainly does. What’s more, Maestro Daniel Hege and the Encore players show plenty of pizzazz accompanying her. A lovely, amiable Largo forms the center of the piece, and then it concludes with a lively Rondeau, gracious, courtly, yet playful.

The second selection is the Violin Concerto in F-sharp minor, written in 1864 by the Cuban-French violinist and composer Jose White Lafitte (1836-1918). The work is highly virtuosic, and as we might expect from a Romantic concerto, more dramatic than Bologne’s piece. Ms. Barton-Pine does it up in fine style. It, too, has a lengthy orchestral prelude before the introduction of the violin, but when Barton-Pine does enter it is with a striking flourish. Still, the piece is not overdone, not histrionic, just agreeably operatic in tone, with Barton-Pine smoothly negotiating its many twists and turns.

Next comes the little Romance in G major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 39, written in 1899 by the British composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912). Unlike Bologne and Lafitte, Coleridge-Taylor’s works, especially his Hiawatha cantatas, have remained popular to this day. The Romance projects a gracefully wistful mood, nicely captured by Ms. Barton-Pine’s artfully gentle playing, which never sentimentalizes the music.

The disc ends with the Violin Concerto No. 2, one of the last compositions (1952) by the American classical composer, pianist, and music teacher Florence Price (1887-1953). It is notable that Ms. Price was the first Black woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and to have a work of hers played by a major symphony orchestra. Here, as befits a twentieth-century piece of music, Ms. Barton-Pine is accompanied by a larger ensemble, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra led by Maestro Jonathan Heyward. Accordingly, it sounds bigger than the previous three numbers. The mood throughout is elegant, warm, and tenderhearted, with Ms. Barton-Pine’s violin always a compassionate communicator.

Producer James Ginsburg and engineers Lawrence Rock, Hedd Morfett-Jones, and Bill Maylone recorded the music at the Chapel of St. John the Beloved, Arlington Heights, Illinois in June 1997 and (for the Price selection) Scotland’s Studio, Glasgow in January 2022. The sound in the first three numbers is mellifluously rounded and natural, with an especially good, resonant distancing and a healthy dynamic range to make it appear real. The Price concerto is done up closer than the earlier tracks, with a slightly greater emphasis on sonic detailing.


Oct 12, 2022

New Releases, No. 37

By Karl W. Nehring

Weather Systems I: A Hard Rain. (CD1) Cage: 27’10.554” for a percussionist; Stockhausen: Zyklus; Feldman: The King of Denmark; Wuorinen: Janissary Music; (CD2) Helmut Lachenmann: Intérieur I; William Hibbard: Parsons’ Piece; Kurt Schwitters: Ursonata. Steven Schick, percussion; Sharokh Yadegari, electronics composer and performer (on Ursonata). Islandia Music Records  IMR011.

Steven Schick (b.1954) is one of the world’s leading percussion virtuosos. He is also a composer and conductor as well as a professor of music (UC San Diego) who has been instrumental in commissioning new works by contemporary composers. Like many albums released over the past couple of years, A Hard Rain is an album that has been shaped in significant measure by the COVID-19 pandemic, as Schick explains in his revealing liner notes, wherein he explains how he came to choose these particular pieces and how some of them have particularly poignant meaning for him. As you night have noticed from the header above, the album is designated Weather Systems I, implying that that there may be more such releases to follow. According to Schick, “Weather Systems is a muti-part set of recordings of the percussion music that has been most meaningful to me, to be made as I age through my 60’s, 70’s, and perhaps 80’s. Though ‘Weather Systems I: A Hard Rain,” as the first installment, presents the foundationalist modernist works for solo percussion, the entire set of Weather Systems recordings will represent music composed over more than a hundred years and will feature a diverse set of com posers and points of view.” The end result is a fascinating album that highlights musical instruments that we tend to take for granted – instruments that are struck, shaken, rubbed, and which range in pitch from treble to bass and in volume from whisper-soft to thunderously loud. Moreover, the final composition, Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonata (1922-32) features the human voice as you have never heard it before. You might find it a bit strange or even offputting for the first few minutes, but just keep listening and there is a good chance y9u will find yourself utterly spellbound. Although A Hard Rain is admittedly out of the classical mainstream, there is plenty here on these two well-recorded discs to stimulate the musical imagination.

James M. Stephenson: Symphony No. 3 “Visions.” Vladimir Kulenovic, Lake Forest Symphony. Cedille 3014 (digital release).

Although Stephenson’s symphony is an excellent work, this review is a bittersweet one, for reasons I shall reveal presently. Let me first explain that although this release is available only digitally at the Cedille website ( https://www.cedillerecords.org ), because at the time I expressed interest in auditioning it I did not yet have an internet connection with bandwidth sufficient for streaming high-res audio, the good folks at Cedille were kind enough to send me a CD copy to use for review purposes. As John Puccio has pointed in the past, Cedille has a top-tier engineering team that knows how to capture realistic orchestral sound; I certainly had no complaints about the CD sound and would be confident that if you are able to stream it at CD quality or above, you will not be disappointed in the sound. More importantly, no matter what level of streaming quality you are able to access, you will hear a colorful, energetic, and attractive symphony. Indeed, Stephenson set out to write a symphony that would appeal to serious, musically informed listeners (the kind that read Classical Candor). In his program note for this symphony, he explained that the symphony’s subtitle, “Visions,” derives from images he kept in mind as he composed the work: “I would literally close my eyes and imagine myself sitting there, in the performance space. I would then only write music that I could envision getting colleagues, patrons, conductors, and young versions of myself at the edge of their seats, eager to play and experience.”

The music is tonal and tuneful right from the outset. The opening movement bustles with high spirits and is then followed by an adagio that calms things down somewhat while still retaining a feeling of energy and enthusiasm. The third movement, marked Vivo scherzando, at times has a jazz-like feeling. It is – unusually for a scherzo – the longest movement of the four. The finale starts off moodily but by the end builds up a full head of steam for a big finish with brass and percussion making a joyful noise. All in all, it is quite an enjoyable work, my only reservation being that at times I found myself wishing that Stephenson would have backed off a little on the scoring – not quite so many instruments playing all at once, perhaps some silence once in a while. As the late Colin Chapman of Lotus fame advised about automobile chassis engineering: “add lightness.” But my goodness, don’t let my petty quibble put you off – this is a colorful, enjoyable symphony. But now for the sad part. After more than 60 years of operation as a professional orchestra, the Lake Forest Symphony, based in Lake County, Illinois, just north of Chicago, ceased operations in 2020 because of funding shortfalls. Such a loss…

Christian Colberg: Talking to Myself. Rude; Six Rounds; 1977; Ibiza; That; Funk; Jump and Echo; The Balcony; Bach It Up; Hmmm; Sleep My Child. Available digitally at Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, and Tidal, or as CD or USB at https://www.christiancolberg.com).

Christian Colberg is a Puerto Rican violist, violinist, and composer who currently serves as the principal violist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. As this album proves, he is also blessed with chops on percussion plus a vivid imagination and a fully-developed sense of fun. His backstory is fascinating, At age four, he auditioned on the violin for none other than the great Pablo Casals and was invited to be in the immortal cellist’s music for youth program. At 16, Colberg left Puerto Rico with no money and went to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. After graduating, an audition for the Baltimore Symphony appeared - but, on viola - an instrument he really didn't know. After listening to all the other applicants practice, he figured out how to play it well enough to get through the audition, and in the end, won his first professional audition on an instrument h didn't play. He was so broke that he had to ask the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for a loan to buy a viola, the same viola he plays today.

On Talking to Myself, Colberg composed all the music, plays all the instruments (his wife, Amy Taylor, plays the alto flute on one track), and did the engineering (which sounds just fine for a studio recording – also, the mixing and mastering was handled by an experienced pro, Matthew Lutthans). The music covers a wide range of styles and moods – jazz, blues, rock, but filtered through the strings of Colberg’s instruments, primarily his viola, violin, and occasional cello, plus the seasoning of acoustic and electronic percussion. Another influence shows up in the longest cut, titled That, in which Colberg’s love for the music of India reveals itself. On his website, he recounts a memory that explains both the feeling of the tune and the origin of its title: “My grandfather played records all day… His tastes in music spanned the globe. By the time I was five, I had heard the world. One sunny day (when is it not sunny in Puerto Rico?), when I was four, he put on a record that changed my life – "West meets East" by Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar. When I heard what was coming out of the record player, I said – “I have to play THAT.” From that moment, I knew I was a musician and nothing else would do. Truth be told, I meant I wanted to play the sitar ("that"), however, I’m not sure if there was even one single sitar in Puerto Rico at the time – so a violin had to do. I hit the ground running and dedicated myself to the instrument.” To my ears, That is six minutes of musical bliss that brings back memories of and pays tribute to both late musical masters, Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin. The final track is also quite moving, titled Sleep My Child, Sleep. Taylor’s flute plays a haunting melody while Colberg provides accompaniment on his viola. Christian Colberg’s Talking to Myself is quirky but fun, well worth an audition by those who value imagination and musical dexterity.

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

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. The sheer audacity! The cheek! 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. In any event, given the musical importance of the Sibelius symphonies, it is certainly exciting to see a new release of a complete set on a major label, no matter the age of the conductor (perhaps Decca could have avoided some of the critical nitpicking by not featuring cover and liner photos that so effectively highlight Mäkelä’s youthful appearance). In the classical music world we take almost for granted that there have been prodigies who have shown incredible musical talent as performers and/or composers at a young age (e.g., Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Hilary Hahn), so why not be willing to accept the idea of a conducting prodigy, which Maestro Mäkelä certainly seems to be. He became interested in conducting at the age of 12 while singing in the choir, of the Finnish National Opera and later studied conducting at the Sibelius Academy. At the age of 21 he first conducted the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and was shortly thereafter named its Principal Guest Conductor. In 2018, he guest-conducted the Oslo Philharmonic, and soon thereafter he was named as its Chief Conductor starting with the 2020-21 season. Since then, he has also been named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris starting in 2021. On top of that, he haws been appointed as an artistic partner of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 2022 to 2027, when he will then become its next Chief Conductor. Clearly, he is either prodigiously talented or else his manager is a Jedi master.

Not that surprisingly, the (spoiler alert!) overall high musical quality of this release is in a significant sense yet another product of the coronavirus pandemic, which hit during Mäkelä’s inaugural year with the Oslo Philharmonic. They had planned to explore Sibelius’s symphonies during a nine-month period, but then the pandemic and its restrictions hit. Mäkelä and the orchestra wound up focusing solely on the music of Sibelius during the spring of 2021. The liner notes offer this explanation: “We played, played and then recorded,” says Mäkelä. “Sibelius’s music, like that of any composer, is a language you have to learn, and the circumstances under which we recorded actually played to our advantage.” Mäkelä goes on to explain that pandemic rules requiring the orchestra members to maintain social distancing during the recording sessions, which led to “deep listening” in his musicians.

The end result is a fine set of these wonderful works. Surely, most classical lovers will already own other recordings of many of Sibelius’s symphonies, perhaps even one or more complete sets such as this. Many will have favored recordings of individual symphonies or Tapiola that they will prefer over Mäkelä’s. I, for example, would never want to part with the Maazel/ Vienna recording of No. 4, and I prefer the Vanska/Lahti version of No. 6. Others would no doubt have other preferences. 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.

Finally, this set includes some music that will be new to even the most ardent Sibelius fans, Three Late Fragments. His last completed work was Tapiola, which is included in this set, but as Nordic music scholar Andrew Mellor explains in the liner notes, “but there was mo9re music in side Sibelius – just. Three fragments of orchestral music discovered am9ng the composer’s late manuscripts may or may not have been intended as part of an Eighth Symphony. But they do suggest Sibelius was attempting to pick up some of the sparse, frayed linguistic threads from Tapiola and struggling to knit them coherently together – aware, perhaps, that the piece had assumed the role of a creative farewell by default. Mäkelä’s take on these fragments is that “Sibelius was reading scores and listening to the radio a lot in his last decades. He realized how different the European avantgarde was starting to sound. Perhaps he couldn’t react on the level he would have liked. The fragments suggest a completely new language that he just couldn’t sustain – or maybe didn’t want to.” Not for nothing are these three compositions called fragments; they time out at 1:41, 0:17, and 1:43. Quite brief, but quite fascinating. With excellent performances, superb engineering, and some truly rare music, this is a set worthy of consideration by Sibelius fans.


Oct 9, 2022

Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 & 18 (CD review)

Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano; Gottfried von der Goltz, Freiburger Barockorchester. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902332.

By John J. Puccio

This album should greatly annoy the anti-HIP crowd. It’s Mozart performed by a period-instrument ensemble, played by a soloist on a fortepiano, and done up in a historically informed style.

The period band is one of my favorite such groups, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, led by Maestro Gottfried von der Goltz. The soloist is Kristian Bezuidenhout, who is an old hand at this kind of thing, and the fortepiano he uses is a copy of an 1805 Walter & Sohn instrument. I have reviewed this team of players before in Mozart and Beethoven, and I love them. There is no exception here.

The first item on the program is the Piano Concerto No. 9 in-flat major, K.271, an early concerto that Mozart wrote in 1777 when he was about twenty-one years old. Despite its youthful appearance, music scholars have always hailed it as one of Mozart’s finest works, the critic Charles Rosen calling it “perhaps the first unequivocal masterpiece of the classical style.”

The first thing I need to remind you of is that a fortepiano is not going to sound like a modern grand piano. The forte is a forerunner of the grand and successor of the harpsichord. As a result, it has something of the sound of both. It is not as light and “tinny” as a harpsichord nor is it as rich and mellifluous as a grand. But it still strikes a good compromise, providing a sweet, transparent sound. As for the performance, it is beautifully articulated, Bezuidenhout and company adopting a quick yet unhurried pace, with plenty of contrast and feeling in the playing. It is clearly the work of a young composer, and both soloist and orchestra here treat it as such--not as a museum piece but as a lively bit of creativity, full of surprises and sweet turns of phrase. After a zesty opening Allegro, the central slow movement is almost operatic by comparison, a lovely, dramatic counterpoint, which Bezuidenhout negotiates with charm and poise. The closing Presto, of course, is the place where most composers would dazzle us, and neither Mozart nor Bezuidenhout disappoint. It’s a grand, delightful affair all around.

The other selection is the Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K.456, written in 1784. Rumor has long held that Mozart wrote it for his friend, the blind Austrian pianist Maria Theresa von Paradis, a story that may or may be true. Regardless, like so much of Mozart’s music, it is familiar stuff, elegant and ebullient throughout. More important, Bezuidenhout is wonderfully fluent and dexterous with every series of notes. As always with Mozart, the melodies pour out in every direction, and their appeal has never been more apparent than here--graceful, sumptuous, mature, with Bezuidenhout and company in full command.

Producer Martin Sauer and engineer Tobias Lehmann recorded the concertos at the Ensemblehaus Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany in May 2021. As with previous productions from this team and this venue, the sound is exemplary. It has good definition, realistic imaging, moderate spaciousness and depth, more than adequate dynamics, and a pleasantly realistic presence, with the piano nicely balanced with the rest of the ensemble.


Oct 5, 2022

Recent Releases, No. 36 (CD reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Roots: Transcriptions of Romantic Works for Cello & Piano. Brahms: Sonata for Cello & Piano in D Major, Op.78; Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73; Liszt: Transcription fo R. Schumann's "widmung" (Solo Piano; Faure: Apres un Reve (from Trois Melodies, Op. 7, No. 1); Massenet: Meditation for Thais; De Falla: Suite Populaire Espagnole. Sophie Webber, cello; Ines Irawati, piano. Sheringham 55491 24852.

At first glance this might look to be a fairly straightforward recital for cello and piano, but it is actually something a bit off the beaten path. As British cellist Sophie Webber (who now resides in San Diego) explains: “Our vision for this album was to being together a collection of favorite romantic works from the Cello and Piano literature which are all transcriptions from another instrumentation. Originally composed for voice (Fauré, Liszt, and Falla), violin (Brahms and Massenet), and clarinet (Schumann), we felt the reinstrumentation of these works exemplifies the versatility of the Cello and Piano. Furthermore, we felt it allows for a certain freshness of interpretation, while still being cognizant of the composer’s original writing and expressive qualities of the instrument/voice for which each work was initially conceived.”

The end result is a delight, as Webber and Indonesian-born pianist Ines Irawati (who also currently resides in San Diego) bring a sense of joyful exuberance to this music, clearly expressing their respect and affection for it. The program begins with the longest and most straightforward transcription of the set, a violin sonata by Brahms arranged for the cello. That is not to say it is dull or boring; Brahms was a master of melody and these women give them their full due. But is at the other end of their program where the joyful exuberance they bring to their playing really shines through as they bring us their version of De Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole. The energy they bring to their playing seems to jump right out from your loudspeakers and leave traces of happiness in the air. The recorded sound is excellent, with a good balance between the two instruments. Overall, Roots is a very pleasant and entertaining 66+ minutes of music. Brava!

Hafla. Tarraquab; Enamorado de Júpiter; Mirada Furtiva; La Estrella Fugaz; Arrihu Aqwadu Ma Yakunu Li-Annaha; Diálogo en la Noche; Linea Oscura; Saeta; Uquállibu; Wadadtu; Visita; Is There No Way. Jon Balke Siwan (Mona Boutchebak, vocals/kwitra; Darya Turkan, kemençe; Bjarte Eike, baroque violin/leader; Helge Norbakken, percussion; Pedram Khavar Zamini, tombak; Per Buhre, vocals/viola; Jon Balke, keyboards/electronics/tombak); Barokksolistene (Peter Spissky, Louise Gorm, Arsima Asghodom, violins; Torbjörn Köhl, Mikkel Schreiber, violas; Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann, violincellos; Johannes Lundberg, double bass). ECM 2726.

Norwegian keyboardist and composer Jon Balke (b. 1955) never had formal musical training per se  ut instead has relied more on feeling and intuition to guide him along his long and varied musical path. He has recorded a number of albums for the ECM label with ensembles of various sizes and configurations, generally under the guise of Magnetic North Orchestra or, as in this case, Siwan. The music has an exotic feel, combining droning, plucking strings with percussion, vocals, (both sung and spoken), some electronic effects – but all done with a light touch. Balke has always been a master of texture, able to bring together musicians from different cultures and nationalities to make music that sounds original yet familiar at the same time. The vibe is Middle Eastern, somewhere between classical, jazz, and folk in terms of musical genre. The baroque violin is played in a style nothing like Vivaldi of Bach; rather, it is played much more exotically, sliding up and down the scale, droning and moaning and wailing as a complement to the plaintive vocal stylings of Mona Boutchebak. The end result is music that is hypnotically compelling, seeming to emanate from some dimly remembered but deeply affecting branch of the musical multiverse.


Oct 2, 2022

La Barre: Pièces pour la Flûte Traversière avec la Basse Continue (CD review)

The Opus Project. Navona Records NV6414.

By John J. Puccio

The French composer and flutist Michel de la Barre (c. 1675-1745) was one of those musicians who was famous and important at one point in history and then largely forgotten by everyone but classical music connoisseurs after his death. (I noted four recordings devoted to La Barre’s music currently available at Amazon, counting this one.)

La Barre was, according to Encyclopedia.com, a “significant French flutist and composer. He became a musician at the Académie Royale de Musique about 1700, where he was active until 1721. He also played in the Musettes et Hautbois de Poitou (1704–30) and in the royal chamber music. La Barre was held in high esteem as both a flutist and composer. His first book of solo suites for transverse flute and basso continuo was the earliest book ever published of solo pieces for the flute.”

The Opus Project is a small Montreal chamber music ensemble formed in 2020 by Christophe Gauthier and Joanna Marsden. Inspired by the beauty of early musical prints and manuscript sources, the Opus Project explores unsung treasures of the baroque chamber music repertoire by focusing deeply on one collection at a time. The players on the current album are Joanna Marsden, baroque flute; Christophe Gauthier, harpsichord; Margaret Little, viola da gamba; and Daniel Zuluaga, theorbo. Each of them is a virtuoso player, performing as soloists throughout the world, and together they play beautifully.

Unless, of course, you simply hate period instruments and/or historically informed performances, and apparently there are such folks even among music critics. I was noting one such critic just recently who pronounced all HIP performances and all period bands as “abominations.” Understand, I have no objection to anyone’s personal feelings about any kind of music, but such a blanket condemnation coming from a professional music critic seems irresponsible to me. It would be like a movie critic saying that all modern films made in black-and-white were abominations. Such a statement about HIP practices and period bands asserted with such a pompously authoritarian air is recklessly foolish in my opinion. It implies that only modern orchestras utilizing traditional nineteenth and twentieth-century performance standards are acceptable for playing classical music, and anyone daring to play music as the composer might have designed and on instruments he might recognize is wrong, which would be very shortsighted, indeed. Whatever, we are fortunate to have ensembles like The Opus Project, which reject the restrictions of tradition and attempt to play music as composers intended. The Opus Project perform with consummate ease and refinement and regale us with detailed and entertaining presentations. In other words, they do their job and do it well.

The job of The Opus Project is here to perform La Barre’s Premier Livre de Pieces pour la Flute Traversiere, avec la Basse Continue (“First Book of Pieces for the transverse flute, with the basso continuo”), which he wrote in Paris in 1702. It consists of five suites of from six to nine movements each. Because he based most of the movements on popular court dances of the time, the result is some sweetly attractive music, sweetly played.

A booklet note points out that the baroque flute differs from those that came before it by producing a deeper lower register, which Ms. Marsden employs to good effect. The flute sounds mellifluously smooth and honeyed. The melodies flow with an easy grace, always, of course, putting the flute in the lead. Then, too, for those listeners who in general resist the sound of a harpsichord, be assured it is never intrusive. And it’s always fun to hear a theorbo (a baroque, double-necked lute having an extra set of open bass strings). Whenever I have a chance to hear my local period band, the Philharmonia Baroque, I enjoy paying special attention to the theorbo player and this fascinating instrument. Anyway, all four members of The Opus Project blend wonderfully well together and produce some of the most dulcet tones you’re likely to hear from any small ensemble.

Although there is a degree of sameness about La Barre’s music, there is, nevertheless, enough variety to maintain one’s interest. The movements range from slow and stately to vigorous and lively, some even playful. Interestingly, the pace appears to pick up by the second suite, which is really quite charming. In fact, I found the suites becoming more endearing as they went along, as though La Barre were just getting the hang of things with practice, continuing to recognize how to gain his audience’s attention and keep it. He kept mine, with perhaps a big help from The Opus Project.

Producers Bob Lord and Noemy Gagnon-Lafrenais and engineer Philippe Bouvrette recorded the music at Eglise Saint-Augustin, Mirabel, Quebec, Canada in July 2021. The miking is moderately close, providing a detailed presentation. Yet it’s not so close as to exclude a pleasant hall resonance, which gives the performances a realistic sense of presence.


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