Apr 30, 2023

Recent Releases No. 50 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

György Ligeti: Complete Works for a cappella Choir. (CD1) Hey, Youth!Mrs. PápaiCouple Dances from KállôSongs from MàtraszentimreSolitudeEjszaka – ReggelEasterThe Three Kings of BethlehemChoir Song after GoetheChoralThe SeamstressesIn a Strange LandThe FugitiveOn the Side of a High CliffFour Wedding DancesWedding SongSongs from Inakttelke; (CD2) HartobàgyBurial at SeaDawnBuryat Harvest SongGreat TimesDawn Is BreakingWinterTwo Choirs on Poems by Bàlint BalassaOrbànThe Woman and the SoldierTwo CanonsLux AeternaHungarian Etudes after Poems by Sàndor WeöresThree Fantasies after Friedrich Holderlin. Yuval Weinberg, SWR Vokalensemble. SWR Classic SWR1912BCD


The late Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006) is probably most remembered for his contribution to the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which used his choral piece Lux Aeterna to great effect to give a sense of the spiritual dimension of the cosmos. Interestingly, DG once followed a similar idea when they released a recording in which William Steinberg’s scintillating performance of Holst’s The Planets was followed by Lux Aeterna. As Buzz Lightyear would say, “to infinity and beyond!” If, like me, you are most familiar with the music of Ligeti primarily from his instrumental work, perhaps from one of the box sets such as Clear and Cloudy from DG or The Ligeti Project from Teldec, and especially if like me your exposure to Ligeti’s choral music has been confined to Lux Aeterna, you might view the prospect of a two-CD set of Ligeti choral works with some sense of trepidation, wondering what kind of strange harmonies and dissonances you might run into over the next couple of hours or so. Not really knowing what to expect when I popped the first of the two CDs into the drawer of my player and hit the PLAY button. However, it was a bit of an anticlimax a few seconds later when the sounds that came out of my speakers were “normal” choral sounds – no dissonances or other otherworldly sounding vocal effects; instead, Hey Youth! the first track, turned out to be a lively, energetic piece that was immediately appealing and attractive. And so it continued throughout most of both discs, with Lux Aeterna itself being the only real outlier, the rest of the program, although varied in harmony and rhythm, sounding much more conventional than avant-garde (although the Hölderlin Fantasiesdo get bit harmonically adventurous in spots).

The liner notes point out that “with the exception of the Latin “Lux aeterna” (1966) and “Three fantasias based on Friedrich Hölderlin” (1982) Ligeti exclusively on setting Hungarian poetry to music… Ligeti did not only realise the respective contents programmatically but focussed especially on particular phonetic sound sequences, rhythms, intonations and accentuations of the Hungarian language… you do not have to understand the words in order to experience the choral works as music that is rich in tone colours, rhythmically concise and extremely expressive.” To that list of adjectives I would add “entertaining,” which this release certainly is. The mathematically inclined have no doubt deduced that 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of Ligeti’s birth. This noteworthy release is a fine way to honor that occasion; let’s hope for more Ligeti as the year rolls on.


Margaret Bonds: Credo (text: W.E.B. Du Bois, ed. Rollo Dilworth); Simon Bore the Cross (text: Langston Hughes, ed. & arr. Malcolm J. Merriweather). Janinah Burnett, soprano; Dashon Burton, bass-baritone; The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra; Malcolm J. Merriweather, conductor. AVIE AV2589


It is always interesting to come across music by a composer previously unknown to you. Composer and pianist Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) grew up in a musically rich environment in Chicago. In fact, in high school she studied piano and composition under the tutelage of Florence Price (1857-1953), another female African-American composer who has recently begun to be recognized. In 1934, Bonds became the first Black soloist to play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performing – what else? – Price’s Piano Concerto in D Minor. However, because of her race, life was not easy for her. Although she was able to earn her B.M. and M.M. degrees from Northwestern University, she was not allowed to live on campus. After unsuccessfully trying to start a music academy in Chicago, she moved to New York in 1939, where she worked in musical theater. Here, she immersed herself in the world of musical theatre and became an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. She also wrote song for singers such as Leontyne Price and Betty Allen, then most famous being the spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” for Ms. Price. Having been inspired by a Langton Hughes poem during her time at Northwestern, she was able to meet and strike up a close friendship with the poet during her time in New York. After Hughes’s death, Bonds moved to Los Angeles in 1967. During her lifetime she wrote over 200 compositions, but of these, only 75 scores survive; furthermore, only 47 were published during her lifetime.

The two works on this recording both date from the final decade of her life, and neither was performed in its entirety during her lifetime. She had premiered a piano/vocal version of Credo in in 1967, but then Hughes died, she moved to California, and it was not until a year after her death that excerpts of an orchestrated version were performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, with a complete performance following a year later. We now have this impassioned performance by New York’s Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra with soloists Janinah Burnett and Dashon Burton, all under the direction of conductor Malcolm J. Merriweather. The text by W.E.B. Du Bois is straightforward and forceful. It makes a plea for freedom and dignity that is if anything – sadly enough – even more relevant today than it was when first written. Powerful words, powerful music, given an appropriately robust performance and recording. It is hard to imagine anyone listening to this music and not being moved. Simon Bore the Cross is also powerful in its musical appeal, although its text, based on Passion poetry by Langston Hughes, may not have quite the impact for some people that Credo carries. Still, it is an impressive performance. Kudos to AVIE for including full texts of both compositions; photos of Price, Du Bois, and Hughes; and information about the performers. In all aspects, this is an admirable, recommendable release. 


Apr 26, 2023

Home. Eric Whitacre/VOCES8 (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Whitacre: Go, Lovely RoseThe Seal LullabySing GentlyAll Seems Beautiful to MeThe Sacred Veil. VOCES8 (Andrea Haines, Molly Noon, soprano; Katie Jeffries-Harris, Barnaby Smith [Artistic Director], alto; Blake Morgan, Evan Williamson, tenor; Sam Poppleton - except [*], Christopher Moore, baritone; Jonathan Pacey, bass); Emma Denton, cello; Christopher Glenn, piano; Eric Whitacre, conductor. Decca 483 3970


The American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) is one of those musicians whose work always seems to be overflowing with energy, imagination, and beauty. His style is a blending of the simple and the complex, with melodies and harmonies that are often beguiling and straightforward on the surface but then as the music continues, reveal depth and breadth express of both harmony and melody that extend deep, wide, and high. His energy does not confine itself to his composing, as he also is active as a conductor. With the advent of the internet and technologies for interacting electronically, he has been active in assembling “virtual choirs” that feature singers from throughout the world joyfully blending their voices under his direction and stewardship, an effort that paid has great artistic and cultural dividends by creating new friendships as well as beautiful music. VOCES8 is an English vocal octet originally founded in 2003. They have had numerous personnel changes over the years, but have remained consistent in their overall sound. They have appeared on numerous recordings over the past couple of decades, not only in supporting roles, as on composer Christopher Tin’s The Lost Birds (reviewed here), but also as featured performers, such as their 2021 Decca release, Infinity (reviewed here). 


On this new Decca release, Whitacre and VOCES8 have joined together to present several of the composer’s works. Their mutual admiration is evident in the liner notes. “It is one thing to spend years savoring the immaculate recordings of one of your all-time favorite vocal groups. It is quite another thin g to be standing in. front of them, making music together in the same room. There is, of course, that legendary VOCES8 sound. Glassy and pure, like spun honey. It’s overwhelming at first, because the way they sing together is so beautiful, so blended,” writes Whitacre. “We are delighted we had the chance to work with Eric on this album,” writes Barnaby Smith (Artistic Director of VOCES8). “To welcome him to the VOCES8 Centre in London to direct his music in what was both a relaxed, but intensely artistically and emotionally charged atmosphere was something very special.” 


The album begins with four brief pieces, all of which are under five minutes in length, beginning with Go, Lovely Rose, Whitacre’s first composition, followed by one of his most frequently performed pieces, The Seal Lullaby, which was written to accompany an animated film that never actually got produced – but the lovely music lives on. The next song, Sing Gently was composed during COVID-19 lockdown specially for Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, made up of more than 17,500 singers from 124 different countries. The fourth work on the album is Whitacre’s most recent composition, All Seems Beautiful to Me, based on a poem by Walt Whitman (from Song of the Open Road) celebrating the human spirit’s capacity for generosity and growth. It was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band and here receives its world premiere recording. We then arrive at the album’s main attraction, The Sacred Veil, which Whitacre composed along with his friend and frequent collaborator Charles Anthony Silvestri, who wrote most of the lyrics, which revolve around the death from cancer of his late wife, Julia Lawrence Silvestri (the remainder of the lyrics were written by Whitacre and Ms. Silvestri before her passing). As you might surmise from those circumstances, The Sacred Veil is an intensely personal, deeply moving composition. 

One of the interesting qualities of The Sacred Veil is the way it balances intimacy with expression. The lyrics focus on the deeply private and personal story of Julia’s passing, told from the perspective of her husband, Charles. At the same time, the lyrics are used to evoke Silvestri’s concept of a thin veil that separates the past from the future, the living from the dead, the temporal from the eternal. This idea of the veil may be a fairly straightforward concept intellectually, but as a central part of a lived experience, it is complex and mysterious. Whitacre’s musical setting of the lyrics uses simple melodies played by the piano and the cello to provide a ground for the sometimes straightforward, sometimes highly complex choral parts. Just listen to the opening measures, with a simple melody on the piano soon joined by a tone from the cello, the voices then joining in with some exquisite harmonizing that draws the listener right into the lyrics and thus into the story. By the time the final movements arrive, the vocal harmonies have become more layered, more complex, but the piano and cello still are there to provide a solid foundation for the harmonic structure of the voices. A particularly moving choral device that Whitacre uses to great effect is sliding harmonies in the voices as the lyrics reflect Silvestri’s thoughts and emotions in the immediate aftermath of his wife’s passing in the penultimate movement, “You Rise, I Fall,” an incredibly moving portrait of grief, built upon love and hope.


The liner notes reveal a wrinkle about this recording that is worth noting. “Much of Eric’s music had been conceived for larger forces than an eight-voiced vocal group,” notes Barnaby Smith, “so to work with the composer to find the best way to present the scores in this chamber environment was an engaging and invigorating part of our process.” And there you have it – The Sacred Veil was originally conceived for a larger choir. In fact, the first recording of it, which Whitacre himself conducted (reviewed here), featured the larger forces of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. So what we have here in this Decca release is in essence a chamber version of the work. That is not to diminish its value, for VOCES8 does a beautiful job. Comparing the two versions directly, I enjoy the greater warmth and humanity that comes through in the earlier (Los Angeles) version, but there is something to be said for the intimacy and purity of sound of the VOCES8 version, although the voices of the sopranos can be overpowering at times (something I have noted on previous VOCES8 recordings). Both are very well recorded. In all honesty, I find The Sacred Veil to be one of the most moving musical works of the 21st century, and I highly recommend this new recording. Indeed, I highly recommend both of Whitacre’s recordings of The Sacred Veil.


Apr 23, 2023

Clara & Robert Schumann: Piano Concertos

by Bill Heck

Clara Wieck-Schumann: Piano Concerto 1 in A minor; Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Widmung. (Beatrice Rana, piano; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Chamber Orchestra of Europe). Warner Classcs B0BLGH14M1.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin seems to be showing up in recordings everywhere these days, and this time he teams up with Beatrice Rana – or should I say that she teams up with him? – to produce an enjoyable disk featuring the piano concertos by what must be the most famous musical couple of the Romantic era, Clara and Robert Schumann. Robert’s piano concerto is well-known to modern audiences; Clara’s, actually written first, has been little-known. Recently, though, Clara’s music seems to be staging a mini-revival.  

Given the dates of composition, it is appropriate that Clara Schumann's concerto appears first on the disk. Considering her age when she composed it (14!), the work is remarkably sophisticated and mature, easily mistaken for the effort of a much older and more experienced composer. For those unfamiliar with the composition (and until very recently that included me and, I’m sure, many readers of Classical Candor), here’s a capsule summary:

The first movement begins with a flourish in the home key of A minor, a theme that is a bit foreboding, followed by both orchestral and pianistic flourishes. There's plenty of drama here, with quiet piano passages alternating with full-throated combinations of the solo instrument and the orchestra. One might even be reminded of an early Beethoven concerto, at least in general outline, if not in clear structural integrity. Toward the end of movement, the sun breaks through and a series of ascending lines take us to a major key.

Interestingly, Clara Schumann dares to tie the first movement directly to the second, a device that, although hardly unprecedented, must have seen quite daring its day, especially for a young, female composer. This second movement is a "romance", with a stretch of piano work that turns into a duet between piano and cello, with additional strings gradually adding harmony. By the way, the device of giving the melodic line in the slow movement to the cello shows up again in Brahms’s second piano concerto. Given the relationship between Brahms and the Schumanns, that seems more than coincidental -- just sayin'. In any case, as with the transition from the first to second movements, the second moves directly into the third.

The third movement, about the length of the first two put together, is more dramatic and initially restless, primarily staying in the minor key. Soon along comes a more joyful melody, which in turn gives way to solo passages in a more introspective mood. But restlessness moves us on, moving through several moods until, as we near the end, the piano gallops off with the orchestra coming along in full stride, ending back in the minor key again: another innovative move, as it was quite unusual at the time to end such a major showpiece work in a minor key.

The playing is both enthusiastic and more than competent: if hearing is believing, I’m certainly convinced that Rana truly enjoys playing this work. The recorded sound is very good: after several listens, I realized that the projected sound of the piano was a little too wide, but the Warner engineers had balanced the piano and orchestra so nicely that this was not bothersome.

Clara and Robert Schumann
Moving on to the next work, the coupling with Robert’s concerto is, at first glance, an obvious one. Both are in A minor, so they must be related, right? In fact, they are not particularly related, other than by key. Sure, there are a few passages that share some similarities, but in the main these are quite different works, and I needn’t go into details about Robert’s concerto, as it is a mainstay of the repertoire. Rana brings much the same energy and vitality to Robert's composition as we just heard in Clara’s; a few passages that struck me as slight missteps don’t detract from a first-rate effort. The story is much the same with the orchestra: intelligent phrasing, very good playing. I can summarize quickly by saying that the performance here is quite nice, as is the sound, although to my ears neither aspect is so spectacular as to displace any other favorites that you might have. I don’t mean to damn with faint praise; if you are looking for a very good performance of Robert Schumann’s concerto in modern sound, this will do nicely.

But, but….at this point, the astute reader may wonder about my attitude here. Well, I am a little disappointed. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with what we hear here. I just wish that we could have had more innovative (might I even say more daring?) programming.

As I mentioned earlier, Clara Schumann's compositions mostly languished in obscurity until recently. We can be glad that they now are played more often, as they truly deserve to be. We can be especially happy that the piano concerto has received such a fine recording as this one. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the concerto, although an amazing work for one of her age at the time of composition and signaling and extraordinary talent, still ends up being the work of youth. While it's certainly worth hearing, it only foreshadows some of Clara's more interesting later works. 

Sadly, Clara composed relatively little throughout her life: given the demands of caring for Robert through his increasing mental illness and eventual death, raising a passel of children, enduring a crushing travel and performance schedule, and (in her spare time, one supposes) dealing with a tricky relationship with Brahms, it’s a miracle that she found any time at all for composition. It seems that there were a couple of minor orchestral pieces that are now lost, and she did work on a second concerto that was never finished; so much for orchestral output.  But she managed to create several pieces of chamber music and even more for solo piano. So wouldn’t it have been nice if, on this disk, the concerto had been followed by a few of those latter piano compositions? I’m drooling (metaphorically anyway) at the thought of hearing Rana have a go at some of those.

Oh well, given the realities of marketing and contracts, perhaps a concerto/solo works program wasn’t feasible. And maybe Rana is already hard at work on another album of Clara Schumann’s compositions – or so we can hope!

By the way, there's a nicely-done video about the album and the Schumanns on the Warner Classics channel on YouTube, part of which is transcribed in the liner notes for the disk.

Apr 19, 2023

131 (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Missy Mazzoli: Enthusiasm Strategies; Sean Neukom; 19|20; Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14, op. 131.  Beo String Quartet (Jason Neukom, violin; Andrew Giordano, violin; Sean Neukom, viola; Ryan Ash, cello). NeuKraft Records


Beethoven fans will recognize 131 as the opus number of one of the composer’s most beloved creations, his String Quartet in No. 14 in C sharp minor, op. 131, which for most listeners will most likely be the program content that first captures their attention. That certainly seems as though it would be the sole point of giving the album the title 131n’cest-pas? But as Lee Corso is often heard to exclaim, "not so fast, my friend!" In their liner notes, the Beo Quartet starts off by informing us that 131 is a “Classical Concept Album,” going on to explain that “Our hope is for you to listen to the album in its entirety as if you were in a theatre watching an opera, musical, or motion picture. No matter what style of chamber music we play – the classics, music of living composers, or music inspired by popular genres – we feel that all styles should inform and be informed be one another to help create a story that is unique to Beo.” (A quick aside: kudos to Beo for employing the Oxford comma!) Although listening to a program of music is certain a different kind experience from watching a movie or stage production, further kudos to Beo for making the effort to assemble a program that attempts to present some new music by bringing together new music from the past with new music from the present into one coherent and entertaining whole.  


Not long ago we reviewed an album featuring several orchestral works by American composer Missy Mazzoli (see review here), whose brief Enthusiasm Strategies for string quartet opens the program on an energetic if somewhat ambiguous note, for the music seems to convey both optimism and apprehension. Musically, though, it is agreeable and entertaining, an excellent curtain-raiser (to borrow the theatrical analogy). Next up is a work by Beo’s violist, Sean  Neukom, titled 19|20.  The liner notes by Beo violinist Andrew Giordano explain that the work ”derives its title from COVID-19 and 2020 – the event and the year that may have changed the direction of humanity and certainly altered the trajectory of the arts and artists.” His notes further reveal that “it is a four-movement work with additional pre-recorded material, and when performed live, includes video projection and staging.” As you might expect from that description, 19|20 (its four movements are titled I. Screens, II. Masks, III. Deception, IV. Ashes) is a fairly complex, serious-sounding quartet, hardly the sort of thing you would throw on to hum along with while dusting your shelves or watering your plants. But that is not to say it is forbiddingly harsh or unrelentingly dark, which it is not. Would it be more enjoyable to be able to see the video projection and staging? Most likely. But the music can stand on its own. Remember, after all, recordings are not live performances. Even if 19|20 did not have a visual element associated with it, we’d still most likely prefer seeing the Beo Quartet performing the music rather than just hearing them. 

The program then concludes with the ostensible title piece of the album, Beethoven’s beloved String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, op. 131, which he composed in the years 1825-26. Can it really have been almost 200 years ago? Of this piece, Giordano writes, “the culmination of this classical concept album is Beethoven’s powerful and forward-looking Opus 131 quartet, cast in  seven movements and played without pause. The somber and depressive opening fugue of Op. 131 can be heard as grief from all the tragedy depicted in 19|20.” Recordings of this quartet are as numerous as the dandelions in my spring lawn, and devoted fans of Beethoven’s chamber music no doubt have their favorite versions. In my own collection, for example, I have collections of the late quartets by the Emerson, Takács, Tokyo, and Yale quartets. But the point of this release is not for the Beo’s version of Op. 131 to displace any of those other recordings, but rather to put Op. 131 in a fresh context and program it with two modern works in an effort to give the listener not only an opportunity to hear two new compositions but also to hear Op. 131 in a different setting – perhaps then to gain if not a new understanding but at least a refreshed appreciation for Beethoven’s music. 

I auditioned the CD version, but the album is also available for streaming at sources such as Spotify, Amazon, Qobuz, and Apple Music. In terms of sound quality, I did a comparison to the Emerson recording on DG and found the Beo recording on NeuKraft to be warmer and fuller, better balanced tonally, and just more natural-sounding. Overall, then, 131 is a nice-sounding recording of an interesting program of highly original and imaginative music, some of which, believe it or not, dates from nearly 200 years ago – but don’t let that age factor put you off.

Apr 15, 2023

Arnold: Clarinet Concerto No. 1 and Other Works (CD Review)

by Ryan Ross


Arnold: Commonwealth Christmas Overture Op. 64Concerto No. 1 for Clarinet and Strings Op. 20Divertimento No. 2 for Orchestra Op. 24/Op. 75Larch Trees, Tone Poem for Orchestra Op. 3Philharmonic Concerto for Orchestra Op. 120; The Padstow Lifeboat Op. 94A (March for Brass Band Arranged 2001 for Orchestra by Philip Lane). Michael Collins, clarinet; BBC Philharmonic; Yuri Torchinsky and Zoë Beyers, leaders; Rumon Gamba, conductor. Chandos CHAN 20152


As its fine liner notes by Mervyn Cooke state, this disc presents a “well-chosen selection of miscellaneous works” from across Malcolm Arnold’s orchestral output. The claim that these can be “just as revealing” as the better-known symphonies seems debatable, but the music recorded here certainly does offer much interest and appeal, every bit exhibiting the composer’s unmistakable stamp of character. These uniformly lively performances of them bespeak a spirited advocacy. On the whole I found this disc to be another successful example of Chandos’s ongoing and most welcome commitment to Arnold’s oeuvre. 


For those not familiar with the state of Arnold’s reception among critics and historians: the merits of his music, not to mention his historical place, are still contested. Advocates like me emphasize his melodic gift, stellar orchestration, blurred genre lines, and the sense of excitement he creates in relying upon these factors plus repetition, contrast, and variation to craft his forms. Detractors wedded to German (and especially Beethovenian) notions of ‘proper’ structure have found his music deficient. If you’re inclined to the latter camp, probably nothing I say here will win you over. But if you’re open to enjoying Arnold’s music on its own terms, I predict that this disc will please, if not delight. 


The recording begins and ends with its two most accessible works: the Commonwealth Christmas Overture and The Padstow Lifeboat march. It is a pity that the overture could not be included on Chandos’s previous disc of Arnold overtures (CHAN 10293), featuring the same orchestra and conductor. But as that disc runs to 75:43, the omission was probably unavoidable. In any case, the present overture (commissioned by the BBC to mark the 25th anniversary of King George V’s 1932 Christmas broadcast) shows Arnold’s priority of reaching mass audiences. He explicitly stated that its purpose was to fit into an atmosphere of families listening after dinner while their children play. Such knowledge could soften the impression of the work’s initial themes’ repetitions perhaps just starting to wear out their welcome by the end, despite being leavened by the jaunty Caribbean middle section. This issue is not a factor in the well-proportioned Padstow Lifeboat march, here effectively orchestrated by Philip Lane from the original band score. As an entry point to Arnold’s music, it’s as good a piece as any: tuneful, humorous (with the repeated foghorn effect), and just the right length.


To my sensibility, the best renderings on the disc are of three works, at least two of which are likely to be less familiar: the Clarinet Concerto No. 1, the Divertimento No. 2 for Orchestra, and the Philharmonic Concerto for Orchestra. While not as famous as its successor (much owing to that work’s “Pre-Goodman Rag” finale), the youthful clarinet concerto recorded here is engaging and already displays Arnold’s hallmark of building first-movement structures around an appealing, interspersed tune. The performers take things relatively quickly on the whole, which I think works in the music’s favor. The technically-sharp, articulative Michael Collins simply beats the available competition as soloist. He’s my new favorite interpreter. 


The Divertimento No. 2 of 1950 had a checkered history after its initial performance and was later revised. This is a vivid little creation that fully displays Arnold’s genius as an orchestrator. Not surprisingly, it was first composed for a youth orchestra; the themes and their recastings give off a feeling of childlike fantasy, which Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic duly bring off. The autumnal Philharmonic Concerto has a darker aesthetic, even though it shares with the lighter-hued Divertimento a chaconne-form finale. There is depth of feeling here, especially in the slow movement – one of Arnold’s best. And again, the performance is top-notch; easily the equal of its alternatives. 


This leaves the fascinating and underrated tone poem Larch Trees, the auspicious product of a 22-year-old composer already known as a brilliant trumpet player. For once, I do not think Gamba’s brisk approach is entirely conducive. Here is a work of delicious atmosphere, an homage to Sibelius (among a few others) in which Arnold proves himself quite capable of creating his own sonic world of natural mystery. Inferior though it may be in other respects, Mark Stephenson’s interpretation with the London Musici on the Conifer label (CDCF 211) runs nearly three minutes longer, allowing the listener to better savor music that shouldn’t be rushed. 


On balance, though, this is a wonderful disc, with even a quicker-than-I’d-like account of Larch Trees contributing to an overall success. The sound is clear and vibrant. The repertoire and performances invite re-listening. While we wait (let’s hope not in vain) for some of these works (especially Larch Trees, the Divertimento, and the Philharmonic Concerto) to be heard live in concert with the frequency they deserve, there is much to be thankful for here. 

Apr 12, 2023

Recent Releases No. 49 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Franck and Vierne: First and Last. Franck: Grande Pièce Symphonique, op. 17; Vierne: Symphonie No. 6, op. 59. Christopher Houlihan, organ. Azica ACD-71356

The subtitle of this album is “French Romantic Organ Symphonies.” Judging from that subtitle, and as you might guess from the fact that the two compositions are sufficient to fill an entire CD, these are both substantial compositions. Sharing his inspiration behind the album, the American organist Christopher Houlihan (b. 1987) begins his liner note essay by observing “The era of French Romantic symphonic organ music is bookended by the work of two composers, César Franck (1822-1890) and Louis Vierne (1870-1937).  Among this oeuvre, there are probably no two pieces that better represent the trajectory of this style than Franck’s Grande pièce symphonique and Vierne’s Symphony No. 6 – essentially the first and the last French Romantic organ symphonies.” Music lovers may well be familiar with Franck from his work in other genres, such as his symphony, chamber music, or piano music; perhaps some might even recall that he was in fact an organist, so are not surprised that he also wrote music for that mighty instrument. For many music lovers, though, the music of Vierne is much less well-known, for he specialized in music for the organ, for which he composed six of these organ symphonies. Both pieces on the program truly are grand works, the Franck in six movements and the Vierne in five. Perhaps because Vierne was the true organ specialist, it is the Franck piece that will most likely sound the more “symphonic” to the majority of classical music listeners, while the Vierne will sound more like what they would expect organ music to sound like.  


First and Last was recorded on the Manton Memorial Organ “Pascal Quoirin” (2011) at the Church of the Ascension, the only French-built organ in New York. Houlihan explains the significance of playing this repertoire on the organ at Church of the Ascension: “Among organ music, the successful performance of French repertoire is especially dependent on the particular sonorities available on a given instrument. The Quoirin organ is a very good fit for the colorful demands of Franck and Vierne’s music, and it was an honor to return to Ascension Church for this recording.” I did a little research on this particular organ and found an article at the church’s website that offered some fascinating details about the history of this instrument:


For more than a half a century, Sir Edwin Alfred Grenville Manton and Lady Florence Manton were known to generations of Ascension clergy and parishioners as “Jim and Gretchen.” Next-door neighbors to the church in Greenwich Village, they were active in the parish throughout their lives in New York… Their volunteer efforts helped sustain the parish through the course of many rectors and their generosity during their lives and by bequest continues this day to support the daily life, worship, and programs of Ascension. A British subject his entire life and a great collector of British art, especially the paintings of Constable, Jim Manton was knighted and became Sir Edwin in 1994 in recognition of his charitable contributions to the Tate Gallery in London; in fact, he was, after Sir Henry Tate, the most generous benefactor in the gallery’s history. But before and after that event, Mr. and Mrs. Manton’s generosity toward the Church of the Ascension was unequaled in our parish history. In addition, they had a special love of great music and valued Ascension’s unique place in the history of sacred music in America. To honor their memory, The Manton Foundation chose a most appropriate gift to the parish by which to remember these two loyal parishioners: The Manton Memorial Organ by Pascal Quoirin of St. Didier, France, is the first French-built pipe organ ever installed in New York City. With its 6,183 pipes, 95 stops, 111 ranks, 2 consoles, and 7 keyboards, it is the largest French organ built anywhere in almost 50 years.

The sound quality of the CD is full, warm, and natural, giving a sense of the church but without the excessive reverberation or over-emphasis on deep bass that is sometimes encountered on organ recordings. This is not a recording for those looking to show off their audio systems, it is an recording for those who enjoy good music, well performed and well-recorded. Especially for those who would like to add some organ music to their collection and are looking for something other than the usual Bach recitals, First and Last would be well worth checking out.


Holst: The Planets. Daniel Harding, Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerische Rundfunks (Bavarian Radio Choir and Symphony Orchestra). BR Klassik 900208 


Gustav Holst’s The Planets, familiar to most music lovers through its many recordings over the years (we all have our favorites, many of us more than one) was composed between 1914 and 1916. Its seven movements comprise musical portraits of the seven known planets of Holst’s time, but based more on astrology and mysticism than astronomy and scientific fact. Each "planet" can be seen as a kind of tone poem. The unusually informative liner notes point out that Holst had originally given the suite the certainly less colorful title, Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra. (As splendid as the music is, it is hard to imagine that it would be as popular as it is today with that title.) According to the background press release information that accompanied this release, the work had not been performed by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for almost three decades when British conductor Daniel Harding (who, fascinatingly enough, is also a commercial airline pilot) brought it back to Munich’s concert audience in February, 2022, when this live recording was made. 

I can’t help wonder whether the orchestra's long period of unfamiliarity with the piece might help to explain the measured pace that Harding adopts throughout all seven movements, for this is the slowest version of The Planets that I can recall auditioning. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, for the sound quality is top-drawer and the deliberate pacing allows the listener to savor every little detail of the score. Compare Harding’s Mars to Dutoit’s, for example, and the latter seems to be just scurrying right through it. Still, the Dutoit recording remains a favorite of mine – I am just using it as a reference point. Other favorites of mine include Mehta, Previn, Steinberg, Slatkin, and Boult. This recording is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the classic Steinberg/BSO – Steinberg tears through it, Harding takes his time. Somewhere in the middle is the 1979 Boult/LPO. Although some folks might try to dismiss The Planets as "too popular" to be taken seriously, I think it is a simply magnificent piece of serious music, one of those compositions for which auditioning and perhaps even owning multiple versions is certainly nothing of which to be ashamed. For those with a keen interest in Holst’s extraordinary score, this new Harding version is well worth a listen, for it offers both sterling sonics and a unique perspective on the music.

Apr 9, 2023

20th Century Masterpieces for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Vol 2

 20th Century Masterpieces for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Vol 2. Pierre Max Dubois: Concerto Italien for Two Pianos and Orchestra; Roy Harris: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra; Arthur Benjamin: North American Square Dance Suite for Two Pianos and Orchestra; Walter Piston: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra; Quincy Porter: Concerto Concertante for Two Pianos and Orchestra; Morton Gould: Dance Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra. With Kirk Trevor/Slovak Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra; David Amos/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonic Society of Moravia  MS 1652 (2 CDs)

by Bill Heck

Huh? There are 20th century works for two pianos and orchestra? (Never mind whether they all are masterpieces.) Who knew? Well, it seems that Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas knew, as they had previously released a Volume 1 and now have moved on to Volume 2, reviewed here.

The brief but interesting program notes accompanying this 2-CD set nicely describe the confluence of factors that moved contemporary composers to write for the combination of dual pianos and orchestra at all, the factors being interest in the neo-Baroque and the revival of piano duos. The notes also hint that some of these works had to be rescued from obscurity by Jonas and Pierce (and others) – and given this sample, we can be happy that they did.

Of course, there’s little point in trying to compare the recordings here to previous efforts because there are no previous efforts, or at least none readily available in the catalogs. Fortunately the playing that I heard through the two CDs was technically secure and sympathetic to the music itself, both from the pianists and the orchestras. (In other words, don’t let the lesser known names dissuade you from listening.) Let me run through capsule summaries of these works to see what might pique your interest.

The first work on the first disc is by Pierre-Max Dubois: Concerto Italien for Two Pianos and Orchestra, and I found it an excellent place to begin: imaginative and highly listenable. The first movement is a sprightly drive (do I hear a reference to car-like physical mechanisms?) with a bit of an edge. The accompaniment from the orchestra provides a musically interesting setting for a nervous workout for the two pianos. The second movement is quite a contrast, a slow movement with an occasionally dissonant single piano, eventually joined by its colleague, all against a softly moving orchestral background. There are perhaps echoes of traditional spirituals, although the overall effect is anything but that. The third movement offers contrast again, speeding back up with occasional bursts of syncopation, all ending with a resounding major chord.

Description is tougher for the second work on the disc, the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Roy Harris. Sort of Celtic music meets 20th century dissonance? Harris uses the pianos in very percussive ways throughout the work, with strong rhythms abounding. A strident first movement yields to a slower, yet disturbed-sounding second. The third, faster again, contains passages that genuinely remind me of Scottish reels.

Next we have Arthur Benjamin's North American Square Dance Suite for Two Pianos and Orchestra. This work comprises a series of eight short vignettes, each, one supposes, depicting an episode at the county square dance. The titles of the movements, such as “The Old Plunk” and “The Bundle of Straw”, are in keeping with the square dance theme, but not really informative about the content of the music. Never mind that: in several of the movements, it's easy to imagine the dancers romping across the room, while others seem to focus on quieter moments that might represent the interactions of couples who will soon be whirling across the floor again. All in all, quite enjoyable.

The second disc starts with the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Walter Piston, this time with orchestral support from the Royal Philharmonic.  The piece opens with a couple of calls in the brasses and a jazzy riff from the pianos – and within a few measures shifts gears entirely. The strident brasses return, the pianos talk back, all with a good bit of dissonance and a sense of random direction. Interestingly, the orchestral parts are, for the most part, fairly traditional, in some cases perhaps neo-Romantic in feel. The pianos mostly play off with more dissonance against the former, resulting in some interesting contrasts; this is especially evident in the slow second movement. The third movement opens with a whack on a bass drum and proceeds energetically indeed from there along the same general lines, but the dissonances are resolved and the entire work ends with a triumphant major key flourish. If I had to choose just one word to describe this work, I think it would be “restless”. The music is searching, especially the pianos; fortunately, it gets where it needs to be in the final burst. By the way, at least for much of this composition, if I were told that the piece was written by a pupil of Shostakovich, I would be inclined to believe it.

Dorothy Jonas and Joshua Pierce
Next up is Quincy Porter’s Concerto Concertante for Two Pianos and Orchestra, this time with the Philharmonic Society of Moravia Orchestra doing the honors behind the pianos. Here I must admit that description fails me: although this composition is in the same vein as the others in this collection, I simply don't have a handle on a particular characterization that might mean anything to anyone else.

The last work on disc two is Dance Variations for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Morton Gould. Here the Royal Scottish Orchestra plays a slightly larger role and integrates with the pianos perhaps a bit better than in the other works, both musically and sonically. The first variation has a slight Mexican flavor in a cockeyed way; occasional bursts of dissonance remind us that this is indeed 20th century music, although generally it is quite tonal. The second variation continues the frivolity with a less Latin feel. In the third variation, the pianos trade notes back and forth in a slow, almost wistful picture, while the orchestra fades in and out with complimentary parts. The final variation has a nervous, high strung energy, nicely depicted especially in the orchestral parts. Of all the works on this disk, this in some ways sounds the most 20th century-ish in that certain passages sound almost random -- but somehow they aren't and we soon pull back to comfortable tonality. For me, the journey felt interesting and well worth the time and attention to follow it along.

While all of these works clearly belong to the 20th century, none tips over into any of the schools that many listeners would find obnoxious. No, you will not hear the sorts of melodic lines that you would hum in the shower, but the music is easily appreciated by even a novice classical listener.

Meanwhile, the MSR recording team has done a fine job. My minor complaint is that the pianos mostly are a little bit too forward to be quite realistic, but that’s a matter of degree, not one of those old DG jobs in which the orchestra appears about 30 feet behind the piano. Otherwise, details both soft and loud are clear and well-placed.

So where does this set fit in? I was happy to hear such novel (to me) music so well played and recorded, and I suspect that many readers of Classical Candor will be as well. Are these works, or any of them, masterpieces? We can leave that to the judgement of history: I have my favorites (and I’m not going to say which they are lest I bias your reactions), but it’s fun to have such variety. Take a listen and see what you think. Me? I’m heading off to check out Volume 1.

Apr 5, 2023

Mozart: String Quintets Nos. 3 & 4 (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Mozart: String Quintet No. 3 in C K.515String Quintet No. 4 in G minor K.516. Quatour Ébène (Pierre Colombet & Gabriel Le Magadure, violins; Marie Chilemme, viola; Raphaël Merlin, cello); Antoine Tamestit, viola. Erato 5054197213328


Probably the string quintet that is the most familiar to the majority of classical music enthusiasts is the String Quintet in C major (D. 956) by Schubert. That quintet differs from these by Mozart, however, in that it is scored for string quartet plus an extra cello, while the Mozart quintets find the string quartet being augmented by an extra viola. How Quatour Ébène chose to add this particular violist (Antoine Tamestit) to form a quintet to play this music with them for this recording is explained in the liner notes by their cellist, Raphaël Merlin: “Little did we know when we signed up for the 2004 string quartet competition, that among the contenders  for the other three disciplines (flute, harp, and viola: inevitably evocative of Debussy and French music in general), we would be meeting our future regular collaborators at these, the Olympics of music… At an age when everything seemed possible, imbued with this newfound autonomy, we found in Antoine a young viola maestro: today still, he remains an enlightened and generous collaborator, a true beacon for our quartet. And it was in Mozart’s Quintet K.516 that our friendship was sealed – that eternal reference work, a measuring stick, a meeting place, a place of pilgrimage. 


Speaking of meetings, I first became acquainted with Quatour Ébène back in 2011 when I purchased their recording of the Debussy, Ravel, and Fauré string quartets (also on Erato), an absolutely marvelous release both musically and sonically. If you are a fan of any of those quartets, that is a recording well worth adding to your collection. And way before 2011 – I really can’t remember when – I made my first acquaintance with the Mozart string quintets when one evening as I was going through the CD shelves at the sadly now long-gone Border’s where I would often stop on my way home from work not only just to unwind but also to see whether I could find any new exciting CDs, on a complete whim I suddenly decided to pick up a couple of RCA CDs featuring the Guarneri Quartet plus violists Ida Kafavian and Kim Kashkashian playing Mozart’s quintets for strings. Played them a few times, found I enjoyed K.516 the most, but then the discs sat on my shelf, only occasionally being played and then being traded in at some point. It’s a cruel world…


But back to the release at hand. All told, Mozart composed six string quintets: No. 1 in B flat major, K.174; No. 2 in C minor, K. 406/516b; No. 3 in C major, K. 515 No. 4 in G minor, K. 516; No. 5 in D major, K. 593; No. 6 in E-flat major, K. 614. The two chosen for inclusion in this release are arguably the pick of the litter. They are a complementary pair, K.515 in a major key and K.516 in a minor key. Of K.516, which for my money is one of the finest compositions that Mozart ever published, Merlin writes: “Though seemingly calm with its autumnal opening energy, this masterpiece soon takes hold with all its psychological violence, rocking us back and forth onstage between tears and sweat…” I certainly cannot comment on the work from the perspective of playing it onstage; however, from the perspective of an engaged listener to this recorded performance (and others, to be sure), what I can say is that it combines the flowing inevitability of Mozart at his finest with a feeling of intensity and involvement. The same can be said for the playing of the Quatour Ébène, which flows inevitably with a feeling of intensity and involvement.


Of the other half of the pair, Merlin has this to say: “Having delivered a message of such high drama to the world, it was arguably this same need for balance that led Mozart  to twin K.516 with a work of opposing and complementary nature, Light and Shade, Joy and Sorrow, Yin and Yang, Major and Minor; these pairings of works – tragicomic diptychs like his two final symphonies (the Great Symphony in G minor and the Jupiter Symphony in C major, same combination as above) or his Piano Concertos K. 466 and 467 (D minor and C major) – represent two sides two sides of the same coin.” As the program proceeds, the contrasts that Merlin mentions become apparent. There is a distinct shift in mood as K.516 shifts to a minor key. Still, both quintets exhibit that marvelous Mozartean flow of melody. The mood might shift, but the beauty and appeal of the music remains strong throughout all 71+ minutes of the program. 

Over the nearly dozen years that I have owned the Quatour Ébène recording of the Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel quartets, I’ve auditioned other Debussy/Ravel recordings, but the Ébène recording remains my reference and first recommendation. I’m not sure I’ll be around in another dozen years, but if so, I’d expect this Mozart release to remain on my recommended list. It’s clearly a keeper. 

Apr 2, 2023

Things Lived and Dreamt (CD Review)

 by Karl Nehring

Leoš Janáček (1828-1854): Sonata 1.X.1905 – Předtucha (Lepressentiment/ The Presentiment) Con moto; Smrt (La mort / The Death) Adagio; Josef Suk (1874–1935): Jaro (Printemps / Spring), Op. 22a, No.5 Vroztoužení (Ledésir/Longing) Allegro non troppo; Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) Humoresques, Op. 101 (1894) -- No. 4, Poco andante, fa majeur/F Major; No.7, Poco lento e grazioso–sol bémol majeur/G-Flat Major; No.8, Poco andante–si bémol mineur/B-Flat Minor; Suk: Životem a snem (Things Lived and Dreamt), Op. 30 -- I Allegretto moderato – S humorem a ironií, místy rozdurděně (With humour and irony, agitated in places); II Allegro vivo – Neklidně a nesměle, bez silnějšího výrazu (Restless and somewhat timid, without strongly marked expression); III Andante sostenuto–Tajemně a velmi vzdušně (Mysterious and light and airy); IV Poco allegretto – Zamyšleně, později stále výbojněji (Contemplative, then increasingly resolute in mood); V Adagio – K uzdraveni mého syna (For my son’s recuperation) – Klidně, shlubokým citem (Calm, with deep feeling); VI Moderato quasi allegretto – S výrazem tiché, bezstarostné veselosti (With quiet, carefree cheer); VII Adagio non tanto – Jednoduše, později s výrazem drtivé moci (Forthright, later with the expression of overpowering force); VIII Vivace – Jemně, švitorně (Delicate, warbling); IX Poco Andante – Šepotavě a tajemně (Whispering and mysterious); X Adagio – Zapomenutým rovům v koutku hřbitova křečovického (Dedicated to forgotten graves in the Křečovice cemetary – Snivě (Dreamy); Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915–1940): Dubnová Preludia (Préludes d’avril / April Preludes), Op. 13 -- I Allegro ma non troppo; II Andante; III Andante semplice; IV Vivo; Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884): Czech Dances 1, JB 1: 107 – Polka No.2 en la mineur/in A Minor – Moderato. Francine Kay, piano. Analekta AN 2 9004


The Canadian pianist Francine Kay is currently on the faculty at Princeton University, plus she also does some teaching in at an institute in France. On this new album, however, her focus is on music by Czech composers. The album opens with music by Janáček, who the liner notes point out was the most widely performed Czech opera composer. His composition for piano on this album, Sonata 1.X.1905, was inspired by a tragic event of which the composer was an eyewitness, the killing of an unarmed demonstrator by a German soldier. The sonata was originally in three movements, but the composer discarded the third before the work was premiered. The remaining two as played here give off an underlying sense of uneasiness, yet with an undeniable lyrical appeal that Kay illuminates with a deft touch. Next up is the first of two compositions on the program by Josef Suk, who not only was a student of the famed Czech composer but was also in fact his son-in-law. Longing is a brief selection lasting just under four minutes, but it packs  plenty of lyricism into that brief span, sounding much like one of the more romantic pieces of Liszt. It is music imbued with tender emotion, this piece that was inspired by the birth of Suk’s son.


We next hear some of the most familiar music of all the piano music literature as Kay presents for us three Humoresques from Suk’s father-in-law, Antonín Dvořák, who despite being the best-known and well-loved Czech composer here in the USA, still sadly seems to be too little recognized (at least here) for composing much beyond his Symphony No. 9 and maybe his Cello Concerto – although I will admit that the opening measures of Humoresque No. 7will be familiar to many, even though they may have no idea that Dvořák was the composer. Following the three short, lighthearted Dvořák miniatures, Kay then turns her attention back to the music of Dvořák’s son-in-law, Suk. Please bear in mind that the previous Suk selection on this album, Longing, was a lyrical outpouring inspired by the birth of his son as you contemplate the following liner note introduction to the next composition, which happens to be the album’s title piece and central focus: “After his beloved wife, Otilie, died in 1905, Suk began to embrace contemporary European impulses in his work. His most demanding piano cycle, Things Lived and Dreamt), Op. 30 (1909)… can be described as a kind of artist’s diary. It is inspired by a variety of experiences and impressions and sings with a rich expressiveness… Surprising movements of voices and harmonies, impressionistic elements, unusual accents (e,g., in No. 1, an ironic caricature of a polka), free treatment of construction, and vibrant colours are among the inventive means employed by Suk.” The 10 movements with their wide variety of moods, tempi, and styles offer Kay the opportunity to demonstrate the depth of her ability to play with subtlety as well as power.

Then once again we get that rare treat of encountering music from a composer that most of us have most likely never heard of before. Vítězslava Kaprálová first studied with Vítězslav Novák in Prague, then went to Paris to further her music studies under the tutelage of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů (who himself had gone to Paris to study under Albert Roussel). Her brief but entertaining April Preludes, written when she was only 22, testify of her talent; sadly, however, she died a mere three years later from an acute illness in Montpelier, France, while fleeing the Nazi occupation. Kay then ends her program with what feels like an encore, an energetic and cheerful little polka by Smetana to bring this generously filled (74+ minutes) CD to its conclusion.


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