Migration (CD Review)

 By Karl Nehring

Adam Schoenberg: Symphony No. 2: Migration; John Corigliano: Concerto for Clarinet; Jennifer Jolley: The Eyes of the World are Upon You; Stephen Montague: Intrada 1631. Jonathan Gunn, clarinet; Brian Lewis, violin; The University of Texas Wind Ensemble, Jerry Junkin, Artistic Director. Reference Recordings RR-150

From the outset, the Reference Recordings label has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for outstanding sound quality, and within the first few measures of Adam Schoenberg’s Symphony No. 2: Migration, it should be abundantly clear to most listeners that “Professor” Johnson has delivered yet again. A brass fanfare followed in quick order by some BIG bass drum whacks are impressive enough, but what really seals the deal, at least for those with woofers and/or subwoofers sufficient for the sound, is the deep rumbling resonant sound that lingers in the wake of the initial notes from the drum. Such a rare but sublime surprise it is to enjoy such a sound in your very own listening
space! So yes, Migration can be counted as an audiophile release, but thank goodness, it is a release with substantial musical virtues as well. As you can see from the header above, this is music for wind ensemble, and the wind band from the University of Texas ranks as one of the very best in the world. No, we are not talking about a small wind ensemble as might perform chamber music, but rather a full-blown wind band comprising 60 or so members including woodwinds, brass, and percussion – something like an orchestra without the strings but with more sheer blowing power. Migration the composition was commissioned for the ensemble and dedicated to Jerry Junkin. It is in five relatively brief movements: I. March, II. Dreaming, III. Escape, IV. Crossing, V. Beginning. From the dramatic opening measures described above, the piece is a dramatic, lively, colorful, and entertaining symphony that bears repeated listening,

Next on the program is a work from a composer whose name is probably more familiar to our readers. Actually, however, the surname “Schoenberg” is quite likely more familiar than “Corigliano,” although the American composer of Migration, Adam Schoenberg (b 1981, is surely much less well-known than either the Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) or American composer John Corigliano (b. 1938), who originally wrote this piece for full symphony orchestra. According to the liner notes, “the original ‘Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra’ was written for Stanley Drucker, the first clarinetist of Corigliano’s youth, and was premiered on December 6, 1977 by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein. Craig B. Davis created the wind ensemble version, and conducted its premiere on February 19, 2015 with Nicholas Councilor, clarinet, and The University of Texas Wind Ensemble.” The concerto consists of three movements: i: Cadenzas, II. Elegy, III. Antiphonal Toccata. Of special note is the second movement, Elegy, which is a deeply moving tribute to his father wherein the sound of the clarinet soloist is joined by the sound of a solo violin. Corigliano’s father served as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for 23 years. The outer movements feature more virtuosic and colorful playing, not just from Gunn on clarinet but the whole ensemble, but it is that second movement that is the emotional heart of the piece. The liner notes are adapted from Corigliano’s original program notes for that original New York Philharmonic performance, a nice touch from Reference Recordings.

UT Wind Ensemble
Following these two longer multi-movement works are a pair of shorter single-movement pieces, beginning with The Eyes of the World Are Upon You by American composer Jennifer Jolley (b. 1981), which according to the composer is a celebration of life to those who died in the 1966 University of Texas Tower shootings as well to those who survived that awful tragedy. As you might expect from that description, it is a serious-sounding piece, but not morose. There is a section that seems to depict the shooting itself, or at least evoke its violent memory, but there is also music of comfort and hope to be heard withing the composition’s nearly 12 minutes. As an aside, I was excited to read in the liner notes that Ms. Jolley is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, for the campus is a mere 15 minutes from my home and I immediately fixated upon the possibility of a face-to-face interview. How exciting! However, a quick check of the OWU website did not yield any information about her, and a quick web search revealed that since the CD had gone into production, she had taken a new faculty position in New York. In any event, judging from her work on this release, she is certainly a talented composer and a name to look out for in the future.

Closing out the program is Intrada 1631 by the American composer and conductor Stephen Montague (b. 1943) who now lives in England. Montague writes of his 10-minute composition that it “was inspired by a concert of early South American liturgical music directed by Jeffery Skidmore at the Darlington Summer Music School in the summer of 2001. One of the most moving and memorable works in the program was a Hanacpachap cussicuinin, a 17th century Catholic liturgical chant written in Quechua, the native language of the Incas. The music was composed by a Franciscan missionary priest named Juan Pérez Bocanegra, who lived and worked in Cuzco (Peru), a small village east of Lima in the Jauja Valley during the early 17th century. Intrada 1631 uses Bocanegra’s twenty-bar hymn as the basis for an expanded processional scored for the modern forces of a symphonic brass choir with field drums.” The music is stately, formal, and powerful. What it lacks in tunefulness, it makes up for in solemnity and impact.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Migration is an audiophile recording, not only for bass extension and dynamic impact, but also for the excellent sense of soundstage depth and width that it presents. How rewarding it is to have a true audiophile recording with genuine musical value; moreover, the liner notes are also excellent, with each of the composers commenting on their works, plus biographical information on the composers, soloists, and conductor as well as information about the University of Texas Wind Ensemble. The good folks at Reference Recordings have done themselves proud with this outstanding release.

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