Nov 27, 2022

Charles Roland Berry: Orchestral Music, Volume One (CD review)

Includes Olympic Mountains Overture, Symphony No. 4, and Symphony No. 5. Joel Eric Suben and Theodore Kuchar, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, and Polish Wieniawski Philharmonic of Lublin. Toccata Classics TOCC 0512.

By John J. Puccio

Charles Roland Berry has one of those names you figure you must know, sort of like Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Randolph Hearst, or Charles Foster Kane. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had never really heard of the man or his music.

So, before I listened, I looked him up. Charles Roland Berry is an American composer born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1957. He studied musical composition and history at the University of California where he learned, among other things, the details of serialism and the discipline necessary to exercise his musical imagination. The study paid off, and since then he has written five symphonies and numerous concertos, overtures, divertimentos, and chamber pieces. The present recording seems a good introduction to the man’s work, including as it does one overture and his two latest symphonies.

Something Mr. Berry says in the accompanying booklet struck me as particularly interesting. He writes “Most composers of concert music in the 21st century never hear their pieces performed more than a few times, and their works survive only on recordings (if they even get that far), which few people hear. The overwhelming array of entertainment options, and the general disinterest of film-makers, leaves new classical music and current composers with small audiences, or no audience at all.” He has a point, of course. And the fact that most modern classical composers seem determined to avoid any hint of melody or even harmony in their music doesn’t help their cause. Yet Berry appears to be bucking the trend. He writes music that he believes people might actually want to hear and enjoy. A liner note compares Berry’s music to that of Copland, Grofe, and Jerome Moross: “open-air, open-hearted” orchestral music.

The program opens with the Olympic Mountains Overture (2003), performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Joel Eric Suben. The Overture describes “the moods and sounds of the Olympic National Park” in Washington state. It begins in big, broad, bold strokes, at one point using a wind machine. Mainly, though, it concerns itself with the quieter, more tranquil aspects of the park. It’s lovely, if not entirely consequential, music.

Next, we have the Symphony No. 4 (2017), with the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Theodore Kuchar. It combines Berry’s interest in “the pentacle and traditional occult elements” with his interest in Freemasonry. Expect something of the unusual here as the music explores in five movements the five senses and the stimuli they receive from the world around us. The movements are labeled “Water: Taste,” “Earth: Touch,” “Fire: Smell,” “Spirit: Sight,” and “Air: Hearing.”

The music of each section unfolds slowly and naturally, and like the preceding Overture is pleasant if not particularly memorable. It’s more like background music for a film, enjoyable if not really eventful enough to stand on its own. The Adagio “Touch” has an ethereal quality to it that lifts it airily along, and the more flighty “Smell” makes an intriguing contrast. And so it goes until “Air,” taken at a Vivace clip closes the show.

The disc ends with the Symphony No. 5 (2021), played by the Polish Wieniawski Philharmonic Orchestra of Lublin, also conducted by Maestro Kuchar. Berry characterizes it as having “attractive melodic ideas...surrounded by unresolved tensions, made no easier by string proclamations, harsh melodies in minor keys, at odds with the brass.” No. 5 is a bit simpler in structure than No. 4, more traditional, less ambitious. Like the opening of the Overture, it also possesses bigger, bolder strokes than No. 4. A forlorn, almost melancholy Andante breaks the spell momentarily, followed by a highly rhythmic third-movement scherzo. Then Berry wraps it up with those “string proclamations at odds with the brass” he mentioned. Although it tends to meander too much for my taste, there is no denying its easy listening qualities.

Producers Charles Roland Berry and Theodore Kuchar and engineers Frantisek Poul, Andreiy Mikrytskiy, and Grzegorz Stec recorded the music at the Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic and at the Philharmonic Hall, Lublin, Poland in 2003, 2020, and 2022. The different venues result in some small differences in sound, mainly in distancing with the microphone setups. Mostly, though, the sound is good, especially in matters of depth and spatiality. It’s readily pleasing to the ear.


Nov 23, 2022

Recent Releases, No. 39 (CD reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Arc II
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin; Brahms: Variations on a Theme by R Schumann, Op. 9; Shostakovich: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B minor, Op 61; Brahms: 11 Chorale Preludes for Organ, Op. 122 (arr. for piano by F. Busoni) (excerpts) No. 10 in A minor, “Herzlich tut mich verlangen” (My heart is filled with longing); No. 11 in F major, “O Welt, ich muss dich lassen” (O World, I must leave you). Orion Weiss, piano. First Hand Records FHR128.

Ohio-born pianist Orion Weiss (b. 1981) has undertaken a recording project that will eventually yield three releases. My review of Arc I, the first release in the series, can be found here: In his liner notes for that album, Weiss explains that “the arc of this recital trilogy is inverted, like a rainbow’s reflection in water. Arc I’s first steps head downhill, beginning from hope and proceeding to despair. The bottom of the journey, Arc II, is Earth’s center, grief, loss, the lowest we can reach. The return trip, Arc III, is one of excitement and renewal, filled with the joy of rebirth and anticipation of a better future.” He goes on to give a quick preview and chronological overview: Arc I (Granados, Janacek, Scriabin) from before World War I; Arc II (Ravel, Shostakovich, Brahms) from during World Wars I and II, during times of grief; Arc III (Schubert, Debussy, Brahms, Dohnanyi, Talma) from young composers, times of joy, after World War I and after World War II.

Although the above might seem to indicate that the present release might be quite a morose listening experience, “grief, loss, the lowest we can reach,” such is not the case. Although this is not a collection of lighthearted pieces, it is not devoted to darkness and despair. As Weiss describes it, “this album strives to understand the varying ways composers comprehend grief, loss, and death. How did they cope, their hearts broken, their peace gone? In this compilation of works I have tried to follow the paths these great composers walked in their own grief. Their tracks lead us from death back towards life, from horror to hope.” We may be at the bottom of the arc, but Weiss already has us looking up, which is evident form the opening measures of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. Weiss brings a sparkle to the familiar Prelude that makes it sound new and wonderful even if you have heard it so many, many times before in both piano and orchestral guise. To my ear, Weiss seem to let us hear what both his hands are playing, somehow making the music sound more complex and colorful, drawing your ears and imagination more deeply into the music. Perhaps he is aided in this by the engineering, which is superb. In any event, this is a first-class rendition of the Ravel.

Next up is the first of the music of Brahms to appear on this album, these “Short variations of a Theme by Him, Dedicated to Her,” (referring to Robert and Clara Schumann ) as the 20-year-old Brahms called this composition, which he wrote in the wake of Robert’s attempted suicide and subsequent institutionalization. Weiss characterizes it as “a homage to his friend and mentor, a first love letter to Clara and a book of condolences to the Schumann family.” Like the Ravel, then, it is music of varying moods, which Weiss communicates effectively with clarity and precision. The intensity level ratchets up several notches as Weiss next tackles a piece written nearly a century after the Brahms, Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 2 from 1943, which Weiss describes as “emotional, romantic, wild, and raw.” This is not music for the faint of heart, and it is definitely not music for background listening. There are times when both hands are pounding out notes; at other times, the music is just a note at a time played by one hand.  Weiss is well up to the challenge of delivering the emotional impact without taking it over the top.

Like a SCUBA diver returning slowly to the surface to avoid the bends, Weiss allows listeners the chance to decompress by returning to the music of Brahms for the final segment of the program. As Weiss points out, this is not the same Brahms whose music we encountered previously on this CD. “More than 40 years after Op. 9, Brahms was at the end of his life. Sick, weak, worried for the future of music, and bereft of his life-long friend Clara, his music took on increasingly religious themes. These organ settings of centuries-old Lutheran hymns (transcribed for piano by his longtime admirer Ferrucio Busoni) tighten the thread between himself and Bach, between himself and his faith. Brahms’ compositional epilogue dates from immediately after Clara’s funeral; the Chorale Preludes, grieving yet heartbreakingly accepting and courageous, were the last notes he ever wrote.” After the anxiety and tension of the Shostakovich, the calmly reflective music of Brahms, although tinged with sadness, offers emotional closure and peace. Weiss caresses the keyboard in these chorales, communicating hope amidst grief.

Arc III awaits.

Wolfert Brederode:
Ruins and Remains
Ruins I; Swallow: Remains; Cloudless; Ruins and Remains; Ka; Ruins II; Duhra; Ruins III; Retrouvailles; Nothing for granted; Dissolve; March; Ruins IV. Wolfert Brederode, piano; Matangi Quartet (Maria-Paula major, violin; Danile Torrico Menacho, violin; Karsten Kleijer, viola; Arno ven der Vuurst, cello); Joost Lijbaart, drums/percussion. ECM 2734  458 1864

Once again I present an album of music that can be seen as a hybrid of jazz and classical, an album for which the case can be made that it can be viewed as chamber music with a twenty-first century sensibility. The back story offered in the liner notes is that “originally commissioned to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, Ruins and Remains was premiered on Armistice Day in November 2018. Its pervading tone had drawn influence from the melancholic atmospheres of Philippe Claudel’s WWI novel Les Âmes grises, with its world of characters harbouring stark secrets. Over time, however, the suite has come to embody meanings broader and more personal, with wide-ranging resonances.’ At a number of levels, the piece has to do with grief and loss and learning to stand up again,’ Brederode says.”

Although the piece was originally composed by the Dutch pianist/composer Wolfert Brederode (b.1974) in 2018, this recording was not made until August, 2021, and the music evolved over that span. “Calling it an evolving suite gave me the liberty to change pieces and add pieces as we went along,” he explained. As the recording was made, with producer Manfred Eicher taking an active role in the proceedings, new sections were introduced, including two that were totally improvised, Nothing for granted and Dissolve. Brederode’s piano serves as the musical thread that ties most of the sound together, with the strings of the Matangi Quartet adding body and color while the drums and percussion provide sonic seasoning. Musical themes and phrases drift in and out of some of the pieces, offering a loose, almost dreamlike sense of unity to tbe proceedings. The music throughout sustains an atmosphere of introspection, mystery, and reflection; however, it is not without energy, nor is it without shape or form. The final selection, Ruins IV, ends inconclusively, leaving the listener suspended, free to draw her own inferences. The engineering is up the usual ECM benchmark, which is clear, clean, open, spacious sound.

Scenes in Tin Can Alley: Piano Music of Florence Price
Scenes in Tin Can Alley; Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman; Clouds; Village Scenes; Preludes; Cotton Dance; Three Miniature Portraits of Uncle Ned. Josh Tatsuo Cullen, piano. Blue Griffin Recording BGR615.

The American composer Florence Beatrice Price (1887-1953) was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a child in the South during that era, she was unfortunately rejected by her white teachers, so she received her first musical training from her mother. She showed remarkable musical talent, but because advanced musical training was largely unavailable to women of color in the South, her mother enrolled the 16-year-old Price in the New England Conservatory in Boston, majoring in organ and piano performance (while following her mother’s advice to present herself as being of Mexican descent). There she was taught music theory by the institution’s director, George Whitfield Chadwick, a leading figure of the so-called Second New England School of composers who had a special interest in African-American folk melodies and rhythms. Over the past couple of years there has been a spurt of interest in her life and works, resulting in a spate of recordings, several of which John Puccio and I have reviewed at Classical Candor:

Those recordings are all orchestral, while this new one is a collection of some of her compositions for piano. Like her orchestral music, this is music that is pleasant and downright fun to listen to. In his liner notes, pianist Josh Tatsuo Cullen makes a thought-provoking argument about Price’s writing for the piano. “As a person of mixed Japanese and European descent, I feel a strong connection to Price’s desire to elevate the marginalized people of her own mixed-race heritage in Scenes in Tin Can Alley, Thumbnail Sketches of a Day in the Life of a Washerwoman, and Three Miniature Portraits of Uncle Ned. Price’s treatment of these neglected subjects using the classical idiom is also very powerful to me because like Price, I began studying classical piano at an early age. Some critics have noted that Price speaks in a borrowed idiom, in the sense that she uses musical language reminiscent of Schumann and Chopin, and not a language she invented herself or that derives from the vernacular of her own heritage. But I would argue that this is precisely what makes it authentic to her: as the daughter of a well-trained singer and pianist, and educated at the New England Conservatory, the classical idiom was her idiom.”

Cullen clearly enjoys playing this music; from the opening measures of the title piece, Scenes in Tin Can Alley, the energy he brings to his playing sounds just right for portraying the emotions and characters that Price is trying to sketch in here scores. But neither Cullen’s playing nor Price’s music is all about energy and bounce; in contrast, the pieces Clouds and Village Scenes reveal a more introspective, impressionistic dimension that are the highlights of this well-played and well recorded album.


Nov 20, 2022

Wagner: The Golden Ring (SACD review)

Great Scenes from Der Ring Des Nibelungen. Various singers; Sir Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic. Decca SACD 485 3364 (remastered).  

By John J. Puccio

“The greatest of all the achievements in the history of the gramophone record.” --Gramophone Magazine

“No one has bettered Solti’s Decca Ring in terms of sweep, grandeur, dramatic immediacy, and sheer adrenalin.” --Stereophile

Twice voted “the greatest recording of all time” --Gramophone and BBC Music Magazines

The honors, praise, accolades, awards, and popularity of Sir Georg Solti’s Decca recordings of Richard Wagner’s complete Ring of the Nibelungen from the late 1950’s and early 60’s have never diminished. So much so that the folks at Decca had already reissued them several times previously on vinyl and CD and have now released them again, this time from high-definition masters in hybrid SACD. Good things just keep getting better.

And yet.... I’d always considered Solti’s Ring one of the great recording sets of all time, but THE greatest? Surely, there are other records even greater. Then I considered the performances and the sound of the Solti set, plus the sheer epic proportions of the project, and try as I might I couldn’t come up with anything else I thought was better all the way around. So, yeah, it’s nice to have it in current state-of-the-art SACD remasters.

Although the production hardly needs recounting, I’ll just remind the reader that Decca spared no expense assembling one of the best casts of performers possible for the time. Not only Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic were aboard, but singers Kirsten Flagstad, Christa Ludwig, Hans Hotter, George London, Eberhard Wachter, James King, Brigitte Fassbaender, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Wolfgang Windgassen, Birgit Nilsson, Claire Watson, Gottlob Frick, Gwyneth Jones, Gustave Neidlinger, Joan Sutherland, Lucia Popp, and Regine Crespin, among many others. Combine all this talent with a production team headed up by John Culshaw, Gordon Parry, and James Brown, and you are bound to get great results.

So, the disc under consideration here is Decca’s highlights album from the four operas. From Das Rheingold there’s “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla”; from Die Walkure there are “Ride of the Valkyries” and “Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music”; from Siegfried the “Forging Scene,” “Forest Murmurs,” and “Siegfried’s Horn Call”; and from Gotterdammerung “Siegfried’s Funeral March” and ”Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene.” However, don’t expect the booklet notes to be of much help. The pages are either mistakenly printed out of order, or somebody at Decca has an odd sense of sequencing. In any case, there isn’t very much information here about the operas, the singers, the characters, or the importance of any of it. There’s far more information about the new audio remastering than about the music itself. So, I recommend you just listen and enjoy.

Producers John Culshaw and James Brown and engineers Gordon Parry recorded the operas in the Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria in 1958-65. Producer Dominic Fyfe and engineer Philip Siney remastered the tapes in SACD hybrid stereo in 2022. The listener may play the disc in either SACD two-channel stereo from an SACD player or regular two-channel stereo from a regular CD player. I used a Sony SACD player and made my comparisons to the same passages issued by Decca in 1988 in regular CD stereo. In addition to the single disc of highlights I reviewed, the folks at Decca have also made the complete recordings available on vinyl and hybrid SACD editions.

I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t describe some of the technical details of this new Decca remaster, so I quote from a booklet note: “For this 2022 edition we have utilised a completely new set of high-definition 24 bit/192 kHz transfers of the original two-track stereo master tapes. ...The vastly extended dynamic range and frequency response obtained from working with transfers at this resolution allows, for example, the glorious overtones of the Vienna brass and strings to be heard as never before; tape hiss and noise reduction benefit from a far more sophisticated set of tools--including iZotope RX-9 and CEDAR Retouch--which are both more effective and less invasive than previous programmes. This has always been a fabulous sounding recording and we hope this latest version takes us a step closer to being back at the Sofiensaal all those decades ago. It is a story which never tires of retelling.”

Anyway, I put the new disc in a Sony SACD player and the older disc in a regular Sony CD player and switched back and forth between them for an hour or so. Adjusting the output levels proved a pain because not only does the newer disc play several decibels louder throughout its dynamic range, but the tracks are a bit different as well. The older disc has seven tracks and a total playing time of 69 minutes, 21 seconds. The newer disc has fourteen tracks and a playing time of 76 minutes, 49 seconds. Although most of the music is the same, the engineers have begun and ended each piece of music at different places. With some effort I determined the following:

The new SACD is slightly cleaner, clearer, and smoother. It is also slightly wider in its dynamic range, meaning there is somewhat greater output in the louder passages and somewhat softer output in the quieter passages. The new SACD could also at times appear brighter, making the older CD sound duller by comparison. Personally, I have never been convinced the Decca recording itself was the greatest-sounding piece of engineering I’ve ever heard (good but not the ultimate in state-of-the-art), and the new SACD still doesn’t persuade me otherwise. But there is no denying the SACD is generally an improvement over the older release.

Solo voices on the SACD are definitely improved, more balanced, more polished overall, with less distortion in the higher registers. So, yes, the SACD is the winner in terms of definition, refinement, and dynamics. Yet, is it worth the upgrade? The differences are not, after all, night and day (although I’m sure many an audiophile would disagree with me). For the dedicated Wagner fan, buying the entire four-opera collection on SACD is probably a given. However, for the casual opera listener, perhaps starting with the highlights disc is the more useful approach.


Nov 16, 2022

Igor Levit: Tristan (CD review)

(CD1) Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3; Henze: Tristan; (CD2) Wagner: Tristan und Isolde Prelude (Piano arrangement by Zoltán Kocsis); Mahler: Symphony No. 10: Adagio (Piano arrangement by Ronald Stevenson); Liszt: Harmonies du Soir. Igor Levit, piano; Franz Welser-Möst, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig (in the Henze). Sony Classics 19439943482.

By Karl W. Nehring

Let me say at the outset that Tristan is an album of contrasts and extremes that is at the same time strangely unified. If that opening sentence makes me sound confused or perhaps even a touch insane, blame it on my having listened to this album over and over in a vain attempt to decide what sort of recommendation to give it. It’s a strange, wonderful album, offputting and endearing, but certainly not boring. You can certainly get a sense of what I mean by this from the heading over the liner notes, which shouts out in capital letters:


Although the program itself opens with Liszt’s familiar and soothing Liebestraum No. 3, as the liner notes immediately make apparent, the centerpiece of the album is its title piece, Tristan, a six-movement, 50-minute work for piano, electronic tapes, and orchestra. Actually, the composition consists of six separate movements or ,as Henze calls them, preludes: I. Prologue, II. Lament, III Prelude and Variations, IV. Tristan’s Folly, V. Adagio - Burla 1 - Burla II - Ricercare I – Burla III – Ricercare II, VI. Epilogue. Although the presence of Levit on piano and Welser-Möst with the orchestra in the cover credits might lead one to assume that Tristan is a piano concerto, such is not really the case. The six pieces were composed separately and then assembled together – including not just then piano and orchestral parts, but also the tapes.

The liner notes explain that “Henze has left us a detailed description of the genesis of his Tristan, including much of its autobiographical background. He prepared three tapes with Peter Zinovieff, a well-known pioneer of electronic music in London whose inventions had a considerable influence on the pop music of those years, notably on Pink Floyd. Polyphonic music from the Renaissance, complex contrapuntal writing for a veritable battery of percussion instruments, Chopin’s funeral march and the aforementioned Prelude to Act Three of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde all found their way onto these tapes. Henze then added the virtuosic orchestral parts minutely timed to these tapes, which functioned as a fixed bass. To the still-incomplete first Prelude for solo piano he now added two further preludes, with the result that the work grew to a total of six sections, a hybrid of electronic music, a concerto, and an example of music theatre that defies all of our conventional ideas on the subject of genre.”

Yes, that sounds like quite a big mess, and there are times when it sounds like, yes, a mess. But there are also passages of delicacy and wonder. For the most part, Levit’s piano seems to float above the rest of the score, which at times includes quotations from other musical works – for example, the opening of Brahms’s Symphony No 1. pops up out of nowhere and then just as quickly disappears back into the void. Tristan is a strange piece – interesting to listen to a few times, perhaps – but not likely to be something that many music lovers will return to very often, if at all.

The second disc will likely have much more appeal to a much broader audience. After hearing Henze’s complex, multi-layered, and at times frenzied take on Wagner’s Tristan, to hear Levit play the Tristan Prelude in an arrangement for solo piano is like leaving the frenzy and frustrations of rush-hour traffic for an enjoyable drive down a scenic highway. Many music lovers have no doubt become familiar with this music not from attending a production of opera itself, watching a video production of it, or even from listening to a recording of the opera, but rather by listening to a recording of orchestral excerpts. To hear Wagner’s lush orchestration reduced down to keyboard scale offers an intimate gaze into the heart of the music, music that Levit brings to life with a blend of passion and precision.

Next up is the opening movement Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 in an arrangement for piano by the late Scottish composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson, whose Passacaglia on DSCH  as recorded by Levit along with Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues was reviewed previously here: Unfortunately, Mahler’s orchestration is just too powerful and dramatic to be portrayed by a piano; it just doesn’t quite satisfy. Wagner’s score worked for the piano, but Mahler’s – sorry, it’s no fault of Levit’s, but it just doesn’t work. Fortunately, Levit chooses to end the program with a work written expressly for the piano, the eleventh of Liszt’s Trancendental Etudes, titled Harmonies du Soir (“Evening Harmonies”). This is a gorgeous piece of music, full of rippling arpeggiated chords, reflective and calming, bringing the program to a peaceful, satisfying conclusion. The sound quality is excellent, as are the liner notes. Although I have reservations about the Henze, it is a piece the adventurous among our readers may want to give an audition. The Mahler, although unconvincing in itself, might certainly be of interest to Mahlerians looking for some more insight into the music. The Liszt and Wagner are beyond reproach. No, this is not a release for everyone, but for some, it will be quite a source of excitement. You know who you are.


Nov 13, 2022

Hans Rott: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Mahler, Bruckner. Jakub Hrusa, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. DG 486 2932.

By John J. Puccio

“Hans Rott wrote his First Symphony--filled with groundbreaking musical ideas and a unique vision for how the symphony could develop--at a time when his younger schoolmate Mahler was barely getting started and his mentor Bruckner was struggling through his middle period. Jakub Hrusa and the Bamberger Symphoniker present this masterpiece alongside words by Bruckner and Mahler, shining a new light on a work which deserves to sit at the centre of the symphonic repertoire.” --DG liner notes

Mahler described Rott as “a musician of genius...who died unrecognized and in want on the very threshold of his career.... What music has lost in him cannot be estimated. Such is the height to which his genius soars in...[his] Symphony, which he wrote as a 20-year-old youth and makes him...the Founder of the New Symphony as I see it. To be sure, what he wanted is not quite what he achieved.... But I know where he aims. Indeed, he is so near to my inmost self that he and I seem to me like two fruits from the same tree which the same soil has produced and the same air nourished. He could have meant infinitely much to me and perhaps the two of us would have well-nigh exhausted the content of new time which was breaking out for music.”

The question has always been: Did Rott’s one and only full symphony influence Gustav Mahler’s compositions to come, or did the young Mahler somehow influence Rott’s writing of his First Symphony? We’ll probably never know for sure, but Maestro Jakub Hrusa and his Bamberg Symphony players do their best to illuminate the comparisons among Rott, Mahler, and Bruckner.

Whatever, it’s a shame composer and organist Hans Rott ((1858-1884) completed only a handful of tunes before he died. It seems that after writing his Symphony in E in 1880 Rott tried pressing it on both Brahms and Bruckner, but they wouldn’t have it. Brahms even became annoyed with Rott's pushiness (and possibly with some of the symphony's content, which he felt mimicked his own work), telling him he had no talent whatsoever. As a result of these and other obstacles, Rott’s Symphony fell into obscurity (it was not performed publicly until 1989), and Rott himself became depressed, delusional, and hostile. The state locked him up in a mental institution while he was in his early twenties, and he died there a few years later.

The present disc opens with Rott’s Symphony No. 1 in E-major, which has always reminded me of Schumann in the opening, Wagner in some of bigger, grander passages, and Brahms in the Finale. There is also a goofy third-movement Scherzo, which does, indeed, sound a lot like Mahler, the similarities being much too obvious, it seems to me, to have been mere coincidence. I like Rott’s intriguing, atmospheric, and mostly pleasurable (if not entirely memorable) passages, but in the end, it sounds to me too much like a pastiche of ideas. Still, I do like that bizarre Scherzo and the overall Romanticism of the piece.

The symphony begins quietly, much like Mahler’s First, though with both a Wagnerian and Schumann-like flavor. Then, by the time the first movement gets moving, we hear a touch of Brahms. I have to admit that I have never heard the Rott Symphony played in a live performance, but by the measure of the several recordings I’ve heard of it, I have never been overly impressed. That said, Hrusa does a fine job making the opening sound more imposing than I’ve heard it before. Of course, whether that is good or bad is entirely in the ear of the beholder.

The slow second movement Adagio seems more appealing at its outset than it does in its development, which doesn’t appear to go anywhere. Not even Hrusa can salvage it, although his sensitive hand guides us through it with a gentle sweetness.

Thankfully, we are rescued by that eccentric Scherzo I’ve mentioned, a jolly affair that couldn’t help inspiring Mahler. Under Hrusa’s direction, it marches steadily forward, pauses briefly for a quiet middle interlude, then resumes with vigor in a series of anticlimaxes. Hrusa keeps it under control as best he can before barely reining it in at the end.

The symphony culminates in a lengthy grand finale, which begins as the symphony began--in muted solitude. Then it quickly builds up a head of steam, which Hrusa and his Bamberg forces play to the hilt, amplifying, reducing, broadening, inflaming, inflating, decreasing, and stretching almost interminably. Yet Hrusa is skillful enough never to let it become overly bombastic, just overly drawn-out.

Following the Rott Symphony, Hrusa gives us two more works, the Andante allegretto “Blumine” by Mahler and the Symphonic Prelude in C minor by Bruckner. Hrusa’s purpose, of course, is to show us similarities in the writing of all three composers, even if the comparisons cannot offer any definite proof of who might have influenced whom. I can say I liked both the Mahler and Bruckner pieces better than I liked the Rott, but that rather misses the point.

Producers Eckhard Glauche, Johnannes Gleim, and Sebastian Braun and engineer Markus Spatz, Christian Jaeger, and Thorsten Kuhn recorded the music in the Konzerthalle, Bamberg in 2021 and 2022. There’s a good sense of depth to the orchestra, noticeable from the very beginning, and enough hall resonance to provide a realistic ambience. A slightly greater distancing makes the sound a mite soft and cloudy, though, so expect a seat in an auditorium perhaps more than halfway back. It makes for big, sometimes massive sound that complements the big, massive sections of the Rott score but tends to leave the quieter passages too recessed.


Nov 9, 2022

Piano Potpourri, No. 8 (CD Reviews)

By Karl W. Nehring

Dvorák: Poetic Tone Pictures Op. 85. Leif Ove Andsnes, piano. Sony Classics 19439912092.

For the majority of music lovers, piano music is probably not the first type of music that springs to mind when we think of Dvorák. In fact, it might not be the second – or even the third. My guess is that most of us would first think of the symphonies (especially the final three), then his cello or perhaps violin concerto, and then his chamber music (the “American” string quartet, the “Dumky” trio). And even if we did think of his piano music, chances are it was the familiar Humoresque, not the music that the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (b. 1970) brings to us here on this new disc from Sony Classics. On this release we once again encounter the tale of a musician using the break imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic to produce something positive – in tbis case, Andsnes dove into these solo piano works of Dvorák and studied them in depth, discovering that the composer had hoped that pianists would play them not just individually, but together. The end result is this recording, which is a sheer delight from start to finish. There are 13 pieces that make up the set, each given a brief descriptive title (e. g., “Twilight Way,” “Spring Song,” “On the Holy Mountain”). The liner notes offer a condensed overview of the set along with a few comments by Andsnes. The mood varies from piece to piece, but the overall feeling is tuneful and entertaining. This is one of the albums that it is simply difficult to imagine anyone not enjoying.   

Mozart: The Piano Sonatas. Robert Levin, fortepiano. ECM New Series 2710-16 (7 CDs).

Although Mozart’s piano sonatas are not – at least for me – not quite at the same exalted artistic level as those by Beethoven or Schubert, they are still wonderful works, full of marvelous melodies and a wide range of emotional expression. To have a complete set presented to us by an artist such as the American musicologist and pianist Robert Levin (b. 1947) is an occasion worth noting. Levin is well known in musicology circles for his studies of Mozart and his painstaking completions of some of Mozart’s fragmentary manuscripts. In this set, for example, he includes his completions of three sonata movement fragments in addition to a fantasia and tbe 18 complete sonatas, which he performs in order. There are extensive liner notes that discuss the music, including Levin’s reconstruction work, and the instrument.

Ah, the instrument… The album cover proclaims that the sonatas are performed “on Mozart’s fortepiano.” There is an essay discussing the construction, sound, and history of the instrument included in the liner notes, in which it is noted that Moaart himself did some of his composing on this instrument, which was later gifted to one of his sons, and that Mendelssohn once tickled its keys. Eventually it was given to a museum, and now through the efforts of ECM and no doubt in recognition of Levin’s world-class reputation as a Mozart scholar the instrument was made available for this recording. Of Levin’s profound knowledge of Mozart’s music and his ability to play it in an appropriate style there can be no doubt. Indeed, the music flows from his fingers with remarkable facility. For lovers of Mozart’s piano music, this set is going to be a must-have. The only reservation that keeps me from making an enthusiastic general recommendation. Is the sound of the instrument itself, a sound that is closer to that of a harpsichord than to a modern piano. For some, that will not be an issue, but for others, it might well be an insurmountable obstacle to their listening enjoyment. Still, everything about this release is first-class. The packaging, the liner notes, the performances, the engineering – this is truly an outstanding release.

Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas Volume 1. No. 3 in B-flat Major K.281; No. 13 in B-flat Major K.333; No. 17 in B-flat Major K.570. Orli Shaham, piano. Canary Classics CC19.

Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas Volumes 2 & 3. Vol. 1: No. 9 in A Minor K.310; No. 12 in F Major K.332; No. 18 in D Major K.576.  Vol. 2: No. 9 in A Minor K.310; No. 12 in F Major K.332; No. 18 in D Major K.576.  Orli Shaham, piano. Canary Classics CC21.

There are several contrasts between this set and the Levin set reviewed above. Most obviously, the Levin set is complete, while this new set by American pianist Orli Shaham (b. 1975) is ongoing (Vol. 1 was released in 2020, Vols. 2 & 3 in 2022, with Vols. 4 and 5 slated for release in the spring and summer of 2023, respectively). Another striking contrast is in the sound. While Levin recorded his set on “Mozart’s piano,” Shaham has chosen to record on a modern Steinway. As a further note about sound, the recording producer and editor for the series is the veteran Erica Brenner and the recording engineer for Vol. 1 and most of Vol. 2 was the late Michael Bishop (1951-2021), whom audiophiles may recognize as the engineer responsible for many of those spectacular Telarc recordings of days gone by. Following the loss of Bishop, engineering duties were taken over by Robert Friedrich, himself a top-rate engineer. Rest assured that Ms. Shaham – and your ears – have been afforded some state-of-the-art sonics.

Regarding the question of why do we need yet another recorded cycle of the Mozart piano sonatas, Shaham recognizes “that is the key question of the whole project… Part of the answer lies in then personal journey of discovery; part of it is in wanting to share with as many people as possible the results of what could so easily be a selfish process. I’ve found some very cool things along the way… I believe that most of us have understood during the Covid pandemic what performers have known for a long time: that there is no substitute for live music. Although these are recordings, I am trying here to capture then spontaneous feeling of live performance.”  In the liner notes for Vol. 1, she makes the interesting observation that “You don’t need to know anything about sonata form or the circumstances of Mozart’s life to love the opening melody of K. 333. The beauty of Mozart is that it communicates directly on that level. It’s clear to anyone who listens to his operas that K. 333 starts with a single melodic idea, not four separate motifs, which is perhaps how many pianists would think of it. I believe that contemplating things from the perspective of the voice is crucial for Mozart – very few of his lines in the piano sonatas and other instrumental works are not vocally inspired. Everything is singable; it’s rare to find intervals in Mozart’s music that are not. In so many ways, Mozart taught the keyboard to sing.” There is indeed a fluid, singing quality to Shaham’s playing that is engaging and pleasurable. Add to that the beautifully captured sound of her piano and you wind up with Mozart recordings that are well-nigh irresistible.

Dawn. Ola Gjeilo, piano. Decca Classics 4852954.

Norwegian-born composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978) lives in the United States. He has written for both choir and piano. My first exposure to his music was several years ago when I first heard his 2012 Chandos release Northern Lights, an album of choral music performed by the Phoenix Chorale that I found I utterly spellbinding. Looking to find more music by this fascinating composer, I discovered a 2016 release simply titled Ola Gjeilo, which featured Voces8, Tenebrae, and the Chamber Orchestra of London. It was a nice album, but some of the music was the same as on the earlier recording. I later purchased a couple of solo piano recordings he had made for a small label. Although there was nothing spectacular about them, they were interesting in their own way. This new one, however, is a disappointment, comprising as it does music that never seems to rise above the merely pleasant. For a composer with Gjeilo’s talents, merely pleasant is not nearly enough. As they say in the sports world, “c’mon man!” Perhaps it is time to for Gjeilo to get back to choral writing.


Nov 6, 2022

Mahler: Symphony No. 5 (CD review)

David Bernard, Park Avenue Chamber Symphony. Recursive Classics RC5956731.

By John J. Puccio

If you have been enjoying the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony for a while, or if you have been reading Classical Candor for any length of time, you probably know how good the Park Avenue ensemble sound. The orchestra includes mainly players who do other things for a living (like hedge-fund managers, philanthropists, CEO's, UN officials, and so on). They're not amateurs by any means, but they're not full-time musicians, either. Nor is the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony a particularly small group. It's about the size of most other full-sized symphony orchestras. Whatever, whether you’ve heard them or not, believe me, their playing will dispel any skepticism about the quality of their work; everyone involved with the orchestra deserves praise, especially their energetic leader, Maestro David Bernard.

So, why does the ensemble call itself a “chamber symphony”? After all, a chamber orchestra is traditionally a smaller group, originally designed to play in smaller rooms; whereas a symphony orchestra is a larger group, designed to play in concert halls or auditoriums. But while symphony orchestras produce bigger, more mellifluent, more grandiose sounds, chamber ensembles usually have the advantage of producing clearer, cleaner, more intimate sounds. I suspect the Park Avenue players chose their name because they combine the best aspects of both designations, chamber and symphony. At least, that’s they way they have always come across.

On the present recording, Bernard and his crew play the Symphony No. 5 by Austro-Bohemian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). He wrote it in 1901-02, and it remains among his most multifaceted works, beginning in sorrow and solemnity and culminating in joy and happiness. The turning points are the third movement Scherzo, sounding much like Mahler's usual parodies of a traditional Viennese waltz, and the famous fourth-movement Adagietto, really a love letter to the composer's wife, Alma. These lead into a joyous fifth-movement Rondo-Finale, made more jubilant by the conducting of Maestro Bernard and the playing of the Park Avenue performers.

There is nothing flashy or earthshaking about Maestro Bernard’s performance, yet it seems perfectly suited to the occasion. In the first movement Bernard maintains a solid, forward-moving rhythm, the music gradually building into a heady climax. It’s a steadfast, firmly grounded interpretation that eschews histrionics in favor of an unwavering fidelity to Mahler’s intentions. The Park Avenue ensemble is equally up to the task of handling Mahler. The composer requested a large orchestra, listing most of the instruments he wanted; but he did not identify the number of strings assigned. Whatever, the Park Avenue players appear big enough in their numbers to produce a thrillingly full sound yet not so massive as to becloud the overall sonic picture.

For the second movement, Mahler indicated “Stormy. With utmost vehemence.” Maestro Bernard again adheres to the composer’s direction. Bernard is a particularly forceful and energetic conductor, so this movement suits him fine. This movement actually acts as a kind of extension of the first movement but with greater intensity and passion, a tone Bernard achieves admirably.

Next we come to the Scherzo, which after the turmoil and “vehemence” of the second movement may seem almost anticlimactic. Nevertheless, it provides a delightful interlude, if a typically peculiar one common to Mahler, as it playfully dances around various waltz and country dance motifs. Maestro Bernard seems to be having a good time with it. And then it’s on to the celebrated Adagietto. In fact, this section became so well known it is often performed by itself. The composer notes that the conductor should play it “very slow,” but Mahler himself was known to have played it fairly fast, at least compared to many of today’s conductors. Maestro Bernard takes a sort of compromise approach, slowly but not too slowly. It emerges perfectly, conveying Mahler’s obvious affection yet not dipping into sentimentality. It’s a sweet, compelling, and still highly emotional approach.

In the Finale, Mahler incorporates several themes touched upon in the previous movements, which help to unify the symphony into a satisfying whole. Here, Maestro Bernard lets the work’s effulgent joy shine radiantly through, concluding a thoroughly enjoyable reading.

Jennifer Nulsen did the audio engineering and mastering, along with engineers Isaiah Abolin, Thom Beemer, and Lawrence Manchester. They recorded the symphony at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, NYC in May 2022. The opening trumpet notes set the stage for sound that has depth, dimension, and spaciousness. It’s clean, transparent sound that well captures the simulation of a live event, even though this one was done in a studio. A pleasantly deep, rumbling bass line adds to the illusion of realism. Both the audiophile and the casual listener should enjoy the sound.


Nov 2, 2022

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 1-6 (CD review)

Also, Manfred Symphony; Slavonic March; Francesca da Rimini; Capriccio italien; 1812 Overture; The Storm; Romeo and Juliet, fantasy-overture. Bernard Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Philips 442 061-2 (6-CD set).

By John J. Puccio

There are four of five sets of Tchaikovsky symphonies I can recommend to the buyer who is considering a complete cycle by a single conductor. On balance, however, I favor this older analogue set with the late Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (still available on Philips and now on Decca), both for its reasoned, yet vigorous, performances and for its warm, wide-ranging sound. Among other recommendable sets I would include Jansons's digital set on Chandos, Muti's analogue set on Warner/EMI, Markevitch's budget-priced set on Philips and Newton Classics, and Jarvi’s set on BIS, and, of course, several other choices, including your own.

Yet, why the Haitink set? Because in the symphonies themselves Maestro Haitink produces no losers and at least three outright winners. His Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are excellent, and his No. 5 is among the best on disc. Nos. 1, 6 and Manfred are good, serviceable accounts, too, although not quite of the caliber of the others. And then there are the short fill-ups, of which "The Storm" is a stunner. Most of the other pieces, like the 1812 and Romeo and Juliet overtures, recorded earlier than the symphonies, are not exactly first-rate but adequate and stretch the set's value.

For those people who have always considered Haitink too cool, too controlled, too reserved, especially performing works by a composer as red-blooded as Tchaikovsky, I suggest starting with the Fourth Symphony. It should end all such preconceptions. As to audio quality, the symphony recordings were made during the mid-to-late 1970's in some of Philips's best analogue sound. Really, only the Chandos set beats it sonically, and that is mainly because the Chandos sound is better imaged. The Philips engineers tended to over-mike things at times, resulting in some compartmentalization. Otherwise, the Philips sound is smooth, natural, robust, and extremely dynamic.

By comparison, the Jansons set costs more, includes fewer fillers, and has at least one questionable recording of the Second Symphony. Like Haitink, the Muti set comes at mid price, but it, too, includes fewer fillers and is less convincing in most of the works (although his Manfred and Fifth Symphonies are standouts). Markevitch has the advantage of coming on four discs at budget price, but the drawbacks are obvious: the set includes only the six numbered symphonies, two of which are split between two discs, and the 1960's sound is thinner and noisier than the competition. Still, Markevitch's interpretations of the first three symphonies in particular must be counted among the best, most vigorous available.

Probably the most useful advice I could give is for a person to buy individual symphonies and short works disc by disc, choosing the best possible recordings by a variety of conductors. Unfortunately, I believe Haitink, Muti, and Markevitch are currently only available in complete sets. So, I suggest buying the Haitink as core material and supplementing it with a few other individual discs by Jansons and Ashkenazy. Or check the used shops for deleted copies of single discs by Muti. But by all means check out Haitink. I don’t think he will disappoint you.


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa