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.


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Meet the Staff

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

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

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

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.

Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

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 also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura’s hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
The reader will find Classical Candor's Mission Statement, Staff Profiles, and contact information ( toward the bottom of each page.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Writer

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. 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 DAC/preamp/crossover, Tandberg 2016A and 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.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa