Jun 28, 2023

A Beethoven Odyssey: Volume 8 (CD Review)

by Bill Heck

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 13, 16, 18, and 22. James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics MS 1472

It’s been over ten years since James Brawn’s “A Beethoven Odyssey” series began. Like the rest of us, Brawn is ten years older, but it’s a pleasure to know – by the evidence of this volume – that we have the same artist, with fingers as supple as ever and musical sensibilities very much intact.

Note that Volume 8 is the second of the most recent pair of releases in the series. If you’ve not read our review of Volume 7, please do so now for some helpful background. I’ll wait.

I have to admit that, after spending time with Volume 7, which includes the majestic last three sonatas (30, 31, and 32), it's a little difficult to come back down to earth and review the “mere” middle period works here, numbers 13, 16, 18, and 22. But then the word “mere” is inappropriate when speaking of any of Beethoven’s creations; these are lovely works, perhaps less demanding of either the artist or the listener, but also more approachable than the final triumvirate. They also offer fascinating glimpses of Beethoven’s musical progression.

Number 13

The liner notes for this release quote a Beethoven letter from 1801: “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve composed up to now. From now on I intend to embark on a new path.” In sonata 13 (Op. 27, no. 1) – not to be confused with its opus mate number 14 (no. 2), the famous "Moonlight" – we see that Beethoven is indeed heading off in a new direction. The movements are not in the usual order for a sonata, as the opening movement is a slow one, and they are played straight through without pauses. (Putting the slow movement first happens again in the “Moonlight”.)  Even within movements, tempos and moods change radically, seemingly without warning at times. One of the joys of listening to Brawn’s playing is that these changes and differences seem perfectly natural in the moment; although lively and expressive, the playing does not call attention to itself.

Beethoven circa 1801
Number 16

We next hear an odd pair: sonata 16 in G (Op. 31, no. 1) and 18 (Op. 31, non. 3). By the time of these compositions, in 1802, Beethoven was fully on his "new path", moving beyond restrictors of classical composition. But even more: at about this time, Beethoven wrote what has become known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, an extraordinary document in which Beethoven begins with the tone of despair befitting a suicide note but ends up saying that “…only Art held me back…”, that he could not leave this world without producing the music of which he was capable.

And yet we have number 16, hardly a lament of despair! The first movement is filled with twists and turns, metaphorically not signs of danger but more like the joyful careening of an amusement park ride. The second movement seems to recall a more formal, backward looking charm, while the third ends with a flourish indeed. At least to me, none of this seems particularly “deep” (by Beethovenian standards), but it is lovely all the same, and Brawn plays it gracefully.

Number 18

Sonata 18 is a romp all the way through, with no slow movement at all. Perhaps the nickname "The Hunt" was bestowed (by someone other than Beethoven) because it reminds the listener of the energy of that pastime; other sources say that the name came from the resemblance of one passage to a sound of a horn commonly used in hunts. Although this is a "jocular" work (a word from the liner notes), shadows do occasionally cross the sunny landscape, hinting at unseen depths.

As for the playing, the first thing that one hopes for is enough energy to keep things going all the way through, and Brawn certainly brings that. As usual, moreover, he makes it all sound quite natural, giving the music space to breathe but never losing the momentum. I particularly enjoyed the two fast movements: the second (Scherzo, but in two beats rather than three) and fourth (Presto con fuoco, i.e., quickly, with fire). In both, especially in the second, the term "rollicking" came to mind; Beethoven and Brawn carry us along with the vivacity of the music.

Number 22

As we arrive at the final work on the disk, sonata 22, I'm trying to think of a word to describe the first movement. It starts conventionally enough, a short motive being handed off here and there, then more energetically - and then the whole thing grinds almost to a halt only to restart in the same overall plan, but with more ornamentation; this happens a few times. Some commentators have seen this movement as a parody of "uncreative composers ", and I can buy that! The second movement is built on similar ground: Beethoven takes us up through octaves with a rather simple scale, then down the same way, then shifts the same pattern to multiple keys, then we do it all over again with sort of a rocking motive, all at high speed, making for a virtuosic workout for the pianist. Physics tells us that there can be no perpetual motion machine but if there could be, this would be it. (I hesitate to say it, but I even hear precursors of minimalism in stretches in which the music changes only subtlety.) Overall, there's considerable humor here but, given that it's Beethoven, it's not merely a musical joke. Brawn gives us a convincingly energetic and, yes, humorous reading, an appropriate ending for a most enjoyable album.

Overall, I’ll simply summarize what John Puccio and I have said about previous albums in this series: playing that consistently just sounds right, combined with exemplary recorded sound. What’s not to like?

Jun 25, 2023

The Legacy Wavelet II (Part 1)

by Bill Heck

As music lovers with nice stereo systems, many of us are subject to periodic fits of “upgradeitis” – the desire to change something, anything, to tweak our systems for that next level of sonic improvement. But looking at the many upgrade options in the audio world, especially the front end electronics, I think that we’re aiming too low.

The prices that we might pay certainly aren’t too low: anything but that, when the cost of fancy versions of the most basic products soar into tens of thousands of dollars. No, I’m dissatisfied because the rewards that these products aim for, and maybe even sometimes deliver, are so small. You don’t need to believe that amps, preamps, or DACs, much less cables and such, “all sound the same” to suspect that the differences among them are mostly subtle, regardless of the sometimes rapturous reports of certain reviewers. (Speakers are a different story; I’m talking about everything up to that point.)

Hey, I appreciate subtle improvements as much as the next music lover. But if I’m spending big bucks upgrading audio components, I don’t want subtle. I don’t want something that I can identify 80% of the time in a blind test; I want something that no one could possibly miss even once. If we spend serious money, shouldn't we get serious returns? Not on the edges, not tiny changes, but major upgrades, differences obvious to the most casual listener. We try to get excited about little gains, but maybe that's because it's been so long since we've had any big gains.

Let’s take a moment to think about why the effects of changing front end components might be subtle. The issue is that these components are mostly pretty doggone good already: electronics with vanishingly low levels of various distortions and digital signal sources that already provide fidelity beyond the limits of human hearing. Moreover, despite audio folklore, human hearing is not particularly sensitive to the kinds of differences (distortions, if you like) that remain at this stage of the audio reproduction chain.

So, if making the musical signal even cleaner is not where advances lie, how do we improve matters? How about changing the signal, not accidentally but with purpose, changing it so that the sound that arrives at your ears better reflects that sound that the performing musicians made originally? In other words, we can modify the signal to correct for, or adapt to, the listening room and to recover or enhance information otherwise lost in the recording process. Yes, that’s Digital Signal Processing (DSP).

Legacy Wavelet II
Enter the Wavelet II. (The original Wavelet has been replaced by the Wavelet II, which is the one that I have and am discussing.) This product, the result of a partnership between Legacy and Böhmer Audio, is a rare beast in the consumer stereo market, one properly characterized as a dedicated DSP product. Sure, there are DSP capabilities built into other products, such as AV receivers, mostly to provide room correction (with varying degrees of success) and to synthesize spatial effects in multi-channel systems. In the two channel world, the aim usually is room correction only, often as an “add on”’ for preamps and such. In contrast, the Wavelet II is primarily a DSP processor offering a unique approach to advanced room correction, plus features aimed at what we might call “music restoration”. The Wavelet II is one of a very few components that does not just sneak across the DSP frontier but bounds fearlessly past it.

To clarify, the Wavelet II does provide the functionality of a preamp and a DAC, not to mention a multi-way crossover. But these features come along for the ride, so to speak: the functions provided by the Wavelet II are built on an advanced processing platform to provide a complete front end, allowing optimization of the entire package while making things convenient for the user. (You can get an idea of how it hangs together from this block diagram at the Böhmer website.)

In what follows, I’ll focus on the unique features of Wavelet II. This means that, in the interest of keeping the length of this article under control, I’ll give short shrift to some aspects; please excuse those omissions.


As with my earlier review of the Legacy Signatures, I won't go into the specifications that you can easily read here on the Legacy website, but a quick summary and orientation may be useful.

Wavelet II Rear Panel
The Wavelet II is both figuratively and literally a black box. I’ve not tried to open mine; you can get an idea of the contents by reading the description on the website. The details are proprietary, and of course with a unit like this, the real action is in the software.

Externally, the digital and analog inputs are more or less typical for a preamp. The output side is more interesting: each of the eight (not a typo) output channels sports balanced and unbalanced connections. Why eight output channels? The short answer is crossovers: I’ll describe their use below.

Wavelet Controls on Android Phone
As to the controls, there are physical buttons and a dial for basic functions on the front of the unit; I hardly ever use them. In addition, a small remote control for basic functions is included with the unit; I’ve never taken it out of the box. The obvious way to control the Wavelet II is with the browser-based app. My own daily driver is a repurposed old Android phone; my Microsoft Surface Pro works well, too, and the Legacy folks swear by iPads.

It was the work of a few minutes to figure out the control app. I particularly liked the clever “fine” volume control, which makes the kind of adjustments that you are likely to make a matter of a few taps. Another nice touch is that the apodizing filter, room correction, and Omnio functions (described below) are turned on or off with simple checkboxes, all of which are located on the main dashboard page – very handy for quickly assessing the results of each function.


Let’s walk through the major functions of the Wavelet II.

Digital-Analog Converter (DAC): Yes, the Wavelet II includes a DAC. (Do any digital products these days not include a DAC?) Of course, you could connect your source to your favorite DAC and connect that to one of the Wavelet’s analog inputs. But given that the Wavelet II digitizes analog inputs to do its DSP thing, why bother? By the way, you can switch on the fly between linear and apodizing filters (the latter to reduce pre-ringing) but that’s one of those subtle effect items that I’ll not spend time on here.

Preamp: The Wavelet II functions as a preamp. Not to insult the Legacy folks, but there are oodles of preamps on the market, a lot of them are very good, and in real world conditions, the differences among them are, well, subtle. (The Wavelet II does provide a neat set of “Contour” sliders that are unusual and particularly handy. You can read about them in the Wavelet II manual.) Subtle is not what I want to write about today, so again I’ll move on to what makes the Wavelet II unique.

Crossover: Although electronic crossovers are hardly new, finding one integrated into a single component with all this other functionality (preamp, DAC, DSP) is unusual, so I’ll spend a little time on it. Of course, a crossover is relevant only if you have something to cross over, either speakers that allow bi- or multi-amping, or perhaps regular speakers plus subwoofers.

For those readers unfamiliar with the concept of bi- or multi-amping, here’s a brief introduction. (You other folks can skip ahead.)

You probably know that your speakers contain crossovers that divide up the frequencies of music and send them to the appropriate drivers, e.g., bass frequencies to the woofers and high frequencies to the tweeters. In “bi-amping”, the idea is to insert an active (electronic) low-level crossover before the amplifier instead of relying on a passive one contained in the speakers. The active crossover thus directs bass frequencies to one amplifier and higher frequencies to a second amp. At the speaker, the bass amp connects to inputs (binding posts) that feed only the low frequency section of the speaker; the high amp connects to what remains of the speaker crossover to drive the midrange and up. To make this work, you need three things: (1) bi-amp capable speakers, i.e., having separate inputs for bass versus higher frequencies; (2) an active crossover in or after the preamp; and (3) a second amp.

Why mess with the complications of bi-amping? There are several theoretical reasons, including providing more total power to the system; moving the stress of higher power handling to just the bass amplifier; improving crossover accuracy and consistency; keeping large back EMF out of the amplifier handling the higher frequencies; and isolating distortion to low frequencies. (Details about the benefits of bi-amping can be found on the Web.)

So with the Wavelet II, the crossover characteristics specific to your speakers are programmed in before the unit it is shipped to you. If you are using Legacy speakers, the Legacy crew already knows how to program the unit for optimal performance in your system. If you are using other speakers – and indeed you can use the Wavelet II with non-Legacy speakers – you would need to supply information, such as crossover frequencies, so that they can program the unit properly.

For example, to work with my Legacy Signature speakers, two pairs of channels are set for bi-amping (L-R for highs and L-R for lows); another pair is set as full range L-R in case I didn’t want to bi-amp; and the final pair is reserved for subwoofers(s). Higher-end Legacy speakers, such as the Valor, would use all four pairs of channels for the different sections of the speakers, i.e., multiamping. If I later trade in my Signatures in favor of some other speakers, I can return the Wavelet II to Legacy for reprogramming as needed.

By the way, for those deep in the weeds on crossovers, note that Wavelet II digital crossover is itself quite sophisticated, supporting multiple parameters (slopes, delays, filters, etc.) per channel.

Room Correction: Certainly, there are other room correction systems (rather a misnomer, as it’s more like “room adaptation”), whether from makers of receivers or independent ones such as Dirac, but Legacy is the only vendor I know of offering the Böhmer system.

The Böhmer approach differs from most, perhaps all, other room correction systems in that it is primarily based on time rather than frequency, compensating for room effects within a 50 millisecond (ms) window. That long window – in audio processing terms, 50 ms is a long time – allows the Böhmer analysis to “look at” and deal with the results of multiple room reflections.

To cover the process in any detail would take us far afield; I’ll stick to reporting the results below, and suggest that you look at the detailed Böhmer website for more information.

Creating the correction algorithm for any given audio system and room is computationally intensive, so during setup you run a measurement process and the data thus collected is submitted via the internet to a high-powered server. Within a few minutes, the calculated correction algorithms are sent back to the Wavelet II. Although execution of the algorithms while playing music requires less processing power than their initial construction, the load is hardly trivial, which is why the Wavelet II contains a serious numerical processor (an Analog Devices chip with associated hardware support components).

Other DSP: Room correction is the most obvious form of DSP, but the Wavelet II offers another, or rather two others: “Omnio” and “Omnio+”. These are Legacy’s names for algorithms that “improve channel separation and restore the directional vector relationship to depth and position cues”. As the names imply, Omnio, which has been around for a few years, was the first iteration; “Omnio+” is a matter of months old, having been added in the recently released version 2.0 of the Wavelet II firmware.

Note that existing Wavelet II’s can be upgraded with this latest firmware; in other words, the functionality of the Wavelet II can improve after you buy it. We’re used to that with smartphones (and electric vehicles); how nice to see it in an audio product.

So what’s the result? What does advanced DSP do for the sound? Does it improve our listening experience? Look for part 2 of this article shortly.

Jun 21, 2023

A Beethoven Odyssey: Volume 7 (CD Review)

by Bill Heck

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 30, 31, and 32. James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics MS 1471

The release of a volume in pianist James Brawn's wandering traversal of the Beethoven piano sonatas certainly calls for a review, if not for downright celebration, here at Classical Candor. Our esteemed founder, John Puccio, reviewed several earlier volumes quite favorably; indeed, Brawn's series of discs is one of the three listed as “Recommended Recordings” on this website. Although I was a bit late to the party, not knowing of Brawn’s work until a few years ago, I have joined him in admiration of the series.

A Beethoven Odyssey, Vol 7
Brawn: A Beethoven Odyssey, Vol 7
For those who are unfamiliar with this “Odyssey” series, here’s a brief orientation. It all started with the 2013 release of Volume 1, which included performances of Sonatas 1, 3, and 23 (“Appassionata”). Subsequent volumes have appeared periodically since then, with sonatas showing up in what may seem to the outside observer as somewhat random order. The pandemic held up progress, but we now have the two penultimate volumes, and I have good reason to believe that a final volume is in the works, likely for next year. All this is in contrast to what we might naively expect, and what often does happen: the sonatas as a cycle, with recording and release in numerical order in a short time.

I mentioned that we have two volumes, with number 7 being the one reviewed here. I’ll post a review of number 8 shortly. Meanwhile, my colleague Karl Nehring will add a few comments at the end of this review.

Given the infinite possibilities of these works, and given that almost every pianist of any repute whatsoever has had a go at them, it would be inane to speak of the “best” versions out there. What I can do here is to recommend the latest installments in this series as versions that you really should hear, and to tell you why I will return to them often myself. (One amusing digression: I asked ChatGPT to write a brief review of this album, and it produced a highly readable account with some interesting details. Unfortunately, it thought that Sonata 25 was included in this volume – it’s not – and, while correctly including number 30, missed the presence of numbers 31 and 32. I try to approach these reviews with a sense of my own limitations, and that’s especially true with such a revered part of the repertoire as the late sonatas, but apparently I’m still more qualified for this effort than AI!)

If you are unfamiliar with the work of pianist James Brawn, check out John’s aforementioned reviews of Volume 2, Volume 4, Volume 5, and Volume 6. In these reviews, he consistently praises Brawn’s playing, and as I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments, allow me to share a few quotes here. “…an interpretation…carefully planned around the composer's wishes, so while it is clearly Brawn's reading, it remains Beethoven's music” and “his playing is thoughtful and purposeful as well as thoroughly entertaining.”, and the obligatory mention of technical capability “…pianistic virtuosity that is quite dazzling.” One analogy in particular grabbed my attention: “…when you've got a favorite actor or actress in a part, and you can't imagine anyone else doing it better…? …other people could have done justice…but you doubt that anyone else could have improved upon them. That's the way I feel about…James Brawn and his performances.”

I’ll also repeat a sentiment that John stresses: paise for Brawn’s work takes nothing away from other fine performances. It's just that Brawn's work always feels consistently "right”.

Back to my own words: Brawn’s interpretations not only sound right in total; within each piece the choices that he makes – changes (or not) of tempo, slight emphasis on particular notes or lines to bring them forward (or the opposite), and so on – all sound organically correct, parameters necessitated by the overall conception of the work. In other words, the music flows forth and carries you along with the feeling that all is exactly as it should be.

There’s another dimension, though, that is the “secret superpower” of this series, and that is the superb, natural recorded sound. Consider just the other two series on our Recommended Recordings list, those by Wilhelm Kempff and Alfred Brendel. While I yield to no one in my admiration for Kempff's work, his final sonata series was made in the early 1960s. While good for its time, the recording does not have the body, range, and clarity of a current digital recording. Similarly, Brendel's series was done later, but still does not have the weight of a contemporary recording. I certainly don't want to say that either set is unlistenable; hey, even the old Schnabel recordings let the music through in a way that can be appreciated. But the MSR recording team, headed by producer Jeremy Hayes and engineer Ben Connellan, capture a startlingly natural and dynamic sound, bringing the music seemingly right in front of you, particularly in the often troublesome areas of the deeper bass registers and the high treble notes of the piano. Don’t underestimate the power of a first-rate recording to help the music come alive and to allow you to immerse yourself in it, especially if you have invested in a quality sound system.

On to the performances at hand. Volume 7 breaks the “random order mold”: sonatas 30, 31, and 32 are presented in order, and indeed they do form a loose set. As the informative liner notes mention, these works were composed at least in part at the instigation of Beethoven’s publisher; in addition, the beginning of 31 sounds almost like a continuation of the end of 30. Moreover, this trio of works is generally regarded as the summit of Beethoven’s creativity for solo keyboard, and innumerable commentators have written (and spoken in the form of podcasts and videos) innumerable words about them.  I can hardly add to all that, so suffice it to say that these are Beethoven’s most radical departures from what has gone before, are deeply profound works of staggering emotional depth, and represent huge interpretive and technical challenges for the pianist. 

Number 30 was dedicated to Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of Antonie, who in turn likely was the “immortal beloved” of whom Beethoven wrote elsewhere. Indeed, this work abounds in moments of extraordinary beauty and a sense of longing, expressed quite wonderfully here, but in the end the profound musicality of Beethoven takes over in the third and final movement with a series of six variations. In this recording, we have both the emotion and the power. By the way, here’s an example of both Brawn’s touch as a pianist and the engineering prowess of the MSR team: In the huge climactic cascade of notes at 11: 50 in the last movement, the very highest notes of the piano, which in a lesser recording might be clangy or edgy, float ethereally over the raucous goings on of the left hand. The result is magical.

Number 31 was written as Beethoven was beginning to recover from a serious illness. The first movement is, as mentioned earlier, almost of a continuation of the final movement of number 30. Personally, I think of it as a backward looking celebration of life, with uncertainty mixed in – but that may be carrying a programmatic view a little too far! In any case, the second movement slyly refers to two humorous popular songs of Beethoven's time. (Beethoven’s Austro-German contemporaries would have gotten the joke; it was rediscovered for us rather recently.) As I listen to Brawn’s playing, I hear the humor but also a certain wistfulness, an emotion that we've all experienced, especially those of us who are a little older: the entertaining moment before our thoughts return to the more serious side of life, that side that we never really forgot even as we laughed. The third and final movement gradually builds, perhaps to celebrate recovery from illness and the triumph of returning health; Beethoven’s own letters indicate that he is happy to be able to work hard again at his art. The playing is what I might call quietly expressive, meaning that Brawn manages to convey the deep emotional content within the context of logical development. In particular, the solidity of the lower registers is contrasted in a lovely way with the fluidity of the upper voice of the central fugue.

Number 32

On my first quick listen to this performance, I was confused, perhaps disappointed; the music wasn’t registering with me. Had Brawn finally missed one? Well, no, and I should have known: I had not heard this amazing work in a some time, and a "quick listen" was bound to disappoint. But as I listened again, both to his recording and to several other superb ones, the music, radical as it is, crept into my mind on its own terms. As that happened, I again heard that sense of “rightness” that Brawn so often brings. This is a lovely performance: perhaps initially seeming understated (and slower than, say, Kovakevich’s early 2000’s effort), but in the end tremendously satisfying.

One interesting note: much of the second (final) movement is in a meter common in jazz. But in jazz, the players who really swing do so by microscopically adjusting the timing, “dragging” some the notes. (If you’ve ever played swing, you know what I mean.) But as I hear it, Brawn seems to “unswing” it. I have no idea whether he was trying to do that, but it alters what the music might otherwise sound like to our modern ears in a way that makes it easier to hear what Beethoven, by this time completely deaf, must have heard in his mind.

Karl Nehring’s Take

John Puccio had good things to say about earlier installments in this set of Beethoven sonatas by James Brawn, so when I was offered the chance to audition Brawn’s recording of the Beethoven’s three final sonatas, I could not pass it up. To my mind, the late piano sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert stand in a class by themselves, magnificent works of art that never fail to evoke fresh wonder and delight in my mind no matter how many times I listen to them. My first listens to the Brawn release were under casual circumstances and my first impressions were favorable; he sounded smooth, expressive, perhaps a bit soft-edged. When I finally got a chance to audition the CD on my main system, my favorable impressions were confirmed. Brawn indeed plays expressively, his interpretation enhanced by the excellent engineering, which puts a bit more distance between listener and piano than is often the case, but without veering toward the overly resonant sound that shows up from time to time on some recordings. I must say that I am impressed by this new release, and not just for its sonic attributes. This will stay on my shelf right next to Uchida; believe me, that is high praise indeed. Her playing is a bit more forceful at times, while the engineering is more forward without being excessively so. Both pianists obviously love the music and serve it well, as do their respective engineers; moreover, this new release on MSR exhibits some of the very finest recorded piano sound I have ever encountered. This is without question a highly recommendable release.


Jun 18, 2023

Malek Jandali: Concertos (CD Review)

 by Karl Nehring

Concerto for Violin and OrchestraConcerto for Clarinet and Orchestra. Rachel Barton Pine, violin; Anthony McGill, clarinet; Marin Alsop, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Cedille CDR 90000 220


Once again I have had the delightful experience of discovering the music of a composer heretofore unknown to me and finding it to be a most pleasant surprise. What’s more, I now have the opportunity to pass the word along – so here we go. Malek Jandali (b. 1972) is a Syrian-American pianist and composer who works to integrate Middle Eastern musical idioms into Western classical musical forms, as evidenced by these two large-scale concertos. At the end of his acknowledgements notes for the album, Jandali writes, “This album is an attempt to present the Arabic musical elements of my homeland Syria and the Middle East. I have always felt that music eloquently expresses the inherent connection between the past and the present. In all cultures throughout history, it has served as a humanizing force, which is common to all.”


The Violin Concerto that comes first on the program is the more Western-sounding of the two. Its three movements are arranged in the usual faster/slower/faster configuration that is typical of a concerto; however, what is unusual is that the first movement is nearly as long (17:31) as the remaining two movements combined (the second clocks in  at 9:42, the third at 8:28). Another unusual feature is the inclusion of an oud (an Arabic string instrument, similar to the lute) among the usual instruments of the orchestra, although its sound blends in quite unobtrusively yet effectively when it appears from time to time. “Just hearing that sound,” Pine says of the oud, “as I’m playing my music on this Western instrument in this Western symphony context was really very inspiring and helped me capture the flavor of what I was doing that much better. 


But of course the star of the show is Pine’s violin, which oftentimes displays a Middle Eastern flair, then at other times sounds more like what we expect in a more standard modern violin concerto. Ms. Pine’s name might not be at the tip of everyone’s tongue when asked to name premier contemporary violin virtuosi, but on this and numerous other recordings she has proven that she is clearly a violinist of the highest caliber. Interestingly enough, when Jandali first completed the work in 2014, he planned to dedicate it to Gidon Kremer, but as time went on, he decided to rededicate it to “Rachel Barton Pine and all women who thrive with courage,” and now we have this fine recording of it, performed by Ms. Pine on a violin named for a woman and accompanied by an orchestra conducted by a woman. Brava! This is a beautiful, satisfying concerto that deserves to be heard in the concert hall.


Among music lovers, the names of clarinet virtuosos are generally not as familiar as those of violin virtuosos, but among those who are in fact somewhat attuned to the world of the classical clarinet, the name of Anthony McGill, the principal clarinet player of the New York Philharmonic, is a familiar name indeed. We have reviewed some of his previous recordings at Classical Candor, including a disc with the Brahms and Mozart quintets (reviewed here by JJP) and another that features some works by contemporary American composers (which I reviewed here). According to the CD booklet (which, by the way, contains a wealth of interesting information about the two concertos as well as the musicians), “the work is dedicated to McGill ‘in memory of all victims of injustice’ and, like all of Jandali’s works, is infused with ancient themes from Jandali’s homeland as a means of preservation. Unlike the conventional fast-slow-fast arrangement of its discmate, the three movements of this concerto are marked I. Andante Misterioso – Piû Mosso, II. Nocturne: Andante, and III. Allegro Moderato; or roughly speaking, kinda slow, kinda slow, and sorta fast. The first movement truly does have an element of mystery to it, the orchestra opening with some almost spooky sounds and then McGill joining with some fluttering effects from his clarinet. The middle movement Nocturne is not soothing evening music; it has an element of intrigue, of exploring mysterious regions in the dark by caravan. The final movement has McGill’s clarinet seemingly whirling and spinning as it dances above the orchestral accompaniment with energy and abandon. As in the violin concerto, the music has a Middle Eastern feel, yet is also solidly embedded in the Western orchestral tradition. McGill says of this concerto, “There are so many moments in this piece that really, really spoke to me deeply. And when I’m playing them, it makes me connected to something that maybe I wasn’t familiar with before. And that’s an amazing feeling to try to step inside the hearts of the Syrian people.”  

Kudos to Cedille for bringing us such interesting music played by first-rank musicians and recorded by an engineering team who knows how to capture the sound of these musicians and their space so superbly. As a bonus, the notes on the music by musicologist Jane Vial Jaffe are also superb. In all respects, this is a release that classical music fans need to hear – Malek Jandali is an exciting new composer (well, maybe not all that new, he has other recordings out there that I am eager to seek out) who has brought us two new exciting, original, and highly rewarding concertos that are well worth seeking out.



Jun 14, 2023

Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles… (CD Review)

 by Karl Nehring

Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles… Jason Hardink, piano; Stefan Dohr, piano; Keith Carrick, xylorimba; Eric Hopkins, glockenspiel; Utah Symphony; Thierry Fischer, music director. Hyperion CDA68316


Sometimes it is fun to listen to something that seems a bit crazy. Something out of the ordinary, wildly imaginative, bold and brash and a bearing boatload of excitement. For those times, crank up your stereo system and give a listen to this new release of Des canyons aux étoiles… (“from the canyons to the stars…”) by the French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1929). He wrote the piece as the result of a commission from Alice Tully, who requested that Messiaen compose an orchestral work honoring the USA’s Bicentennial celebration of 1976. The CD booklet recounts that upon receiving the commission, Messiaen “consulted an encyclopedia in search of  a suitable subject. What he found was the canyon territory of southern Utah. In the spring of 1973  he paid the region a visit – as the Utah Symphony would do fifty years later, to give a performance of the work in the canyons and under the stars, a performance to which this studio recording relates. Messiaen, when he was there, noted down not only bird songs, as was his custom, but also rock colours: ‘All possible varieties of red, orange and violet, these astonishing forms caused by erosion.’ The birds and rocks, the songs and the colours would guide his imagination through what became a concert-length work for an orchestra full of woodwind, brass, and percussion sections with a modest complement of just thirteen strings and a solo piano.” 

You can begin to get a sense of what Messiaen is up to in this piece by taking a look at the titles he gave to each of its sections. These sections are organized in to three main parts, and on this recording, Parts I and II appear on CD 1 (47:06), while Part III fills up CD 2 (45:12). An examination of the titles of each of the dozen sections offers an insight into the creative imagination of the composer as well as hints at the variety of the musical sounds to be found in then score. Part 1: Le Désert ("The desert"); Les orioles ("The orioles"); Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles ("What is written in the stars"); Le Cossyphe d'Heuglin ("The white-browed robin-chat"); Cedar Breaks et le don de crainte ("Cedar Breaks and the gift of awe"); Part 2: Appel interstellaire ("Interstellar call"); Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange("Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks"); Part 3: Les Ressuscités et le chant de l'étoile Aldebaran ("The resurrected and the song of the star Aldebaran"); Le Moqueur polyglotte ("The mockingbird"); La Grive des bois ("The wood thrush"); Omao, leiothrix, elepaio, shama ("ʻōmaʻo, leiothrix, ʻelepaio, shama"); Zion Park et la cité céleste ("Zion Park and the celestial city"). (For those who might understandably might be wondering, ʻōmaʻo etc. are bird species.)  The opening notes from the horn set the tone – for the duration of the 90 minutes, much of the music involves a solo instrument or small groups of instruments, with two of the movements (Le Cossyphe d'Heuglin  and Le Moqueur polyglotte) being for solo piano. Along the way, there is a solo passages for wind machine; a part for an instrument that Messiaen invented, the geophone (a large flat drum filled with lead beads that can be rotated to sound like shifting sand); and as the liner notes explain about a puzzling sound, “a weird glissando played on the mouthpiece of a trumpet.”

Some of the sonorities may be unfamiliar, but at the same time there are the unmistakable sounds of nature, such as wind and birds. Messiaen does not attempt to portray the grandeur of nature by writing music for huge forces; instead, he focuses on small details – birds, sounds, colors, rock formations in a canyon – and attempts to communicate the wonders he encounters through music by means of specific orchestral instruments or combinations thereof. Granted, this might all sound a bit crazy, but as I asserted at the beginning of this review, sometimes it can be fun to listen to something a bit crazy, especially when that something is crazily colorful and imaginative musical composition presented in a carefully crafted performance that has been convincingly captured by the engineering team. Although this may not be a release that will appeal to everyone, but for Messiaen fans and those with an inclination for musical exploration, this new release from Hyperion is well worth an audition. 

Jun 11, 2023

Voice of Rachmaninoff (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de Fantasie, Op. 3 – No. 1 Elégie12 Romances, Op 21 No. 7 – Zdes Khorosho “How fair this spot”; 6 Songs, Op. 4 No. 4 – Ne poy krasavitsa prim ne “Oh never sing to me again”Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 – Var. XVIII-Andante CantabileSonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op.19Vocalise, Op 34 No. 14“Preghiera” (Arranged by Fritz Kreisler and Shelbie Rassler from Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, second movement). John-Henry Crawford, cello; Victor Santiago Asuncion, piano. Orchid Classics ORC100241


The last time we encountered the duo of cellist John-Henry Crawford and pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion, they were bringing us the music of Central America on a delightful album that we reviewed here. This time around they bring us the music of Rachmaninoff, who is perhaps mostly famed as a composer for the keyboard, especially for his piano concertos, but also for his orchestral works (Ryan Ross will soon be reviewing a new recording of some of his symphonies). The music of Rachmaninoff is loved for its beautiful melodies, and the cello is admired for its ability to convey melody with great expressiveness. As John-Henry Crawford explains in the CD booklet, “Rachmaninoff’s most revered as a pianist and  for his magnificent compositions for the instrument, but he also had a remarkable ability to sing through the soaring melodies one finds across his entire musical output… The mainstay of the program is the Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, which is the only sonata Rachmaninoff wrote for any solo instrument other than piano. Rachmaninoff had a great affection for the cello, not surprisingly given its likeness to the human voice. The Sonata boasts one song after another in a vast work with a devilishly difficult piano part, on par with that of his piano concerti.”

The album opens, however, not with the Sonata, but with an arrangement for cello and piano of a piano suite that the composer completed in 1892 and then gave the first published copy to Tchaikovsky, who was apparently quite impressed. It is soulful, dramatic, tune that pulls at the heartstrings, with both piano and cello playing with fervent energy. Then come two songs, the brief (2:17) “How fair this spot” followed by “Oh never sing to me again.” Being songs, of course, both are highly melodic, with the melody given more to Crawford’s cello, Asuncion’s piano playing more of an accompanist’s role. However, his piano sings with a more prominent voice for the remainder of the program – this is music of Rachmaninoff, after all!

Next up is the tender Andante Cantabile variation from the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, perhaps one of Rachmaninoff’s most memorable musical moments. Even those who do not follow classical music have no doubt heard this music, perhaps from watching the telecast of an Olympic figure skating competition. Crawford and Ascuncion play it beautifully, but without adding extra schmaltz of their own.  We then come to the main even, the sonata that the composer wrote in 1901 after successfully recovering from the creative depression he had suffered in the wake of the unsuccessful debut of his Piano Concerto No. 1. That same year, he also completed his most popular work, the Piano Concerto No. 2. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that a striking characteristic of the sonata is the prominence given to the piano. 

The opening is slow but dramatic, the piano playing expressively, soon joined by the cello with a truly singing quality. The second movement sounds more agitated, often emphasized by a galloping sound from the piano. The cello sounds calmer, but overall there is still a sense of motion. A lyrical interlude led by the cello is followed by a climax about four minutes in. The music then reverts to the agitated feeling of the opening, with the piano taking much of the lead and the cello singing along. As you might expect, the following third movement opens more softly and reflectively, the piano in the lead, the cello echoing same melody. Toward the end of this short movement, there is an intense passage with both instruments singing away, but then the intensity diminishes as the movement ends quietly, the last note on the cello lingering in the air. The fourth and final movement parallels the opening movement in its scope and intensity. Once again, the piano plays a prominent role while the cello plays lyrically and lovingly. The overall impression is that of a piano concerto for reduced forces: or perhaps it makes much better sense to simply to acknowledge it as a truly grand sonata for cello and piano. In any event, it is a beautifully dramatic composition that is played for all it is worth by these two remarkable musicians. 

Then comes the familiar Vocalise. As you might expect, Crawford’s cello sings the melody quite hauntingly; however, what you might not expect is how significant a contribution Asuncion’s piano makes in this arrangement. This in not just another facile run-through of a piece that can seem overly familiar. The program ends with a benediction, “Preghiera” (“Prayer”), an arrangement of yet another tenderly lyrical selection from one of Rachmaninoff’s works, this time from the second movement of his beloved Piano Concerto No. 2. Both Asuncion and Crawford play it for all it is worth, wringing every last bit of beauty and emotion out of this music. It is a performance that you just don’t want to end, but you know what they say of all good things… The CD booklet contains informative notes about both the music and the musicians. The  engineering is by the veteran Adam Abeshouse, a name that seems to pop up fairly often on fine-sounding recordings, of which this is a prime example. This is an excellent release in all respects.

Jun 7, 2023

Takemitsu: Spectral Canticle (CD Review)

 by Karl Nehring

Takemitsu: Spectral Canticle (for violin, guitar, and orchestra); To the Edge of Dream (for guitar and orchestra); Vers l’arc-en-ciel, Palma (for oboe d’amore, guitar, and orchestra); Twill by Twilight (for orchestra). Jacob Kellermann, guitar; Vivian Hagner, violin; Juliana Koch, oboe d’amore; BBC Philharmonic conducted by Christian Karlsen. BIS-2655 SACD


Although music lovers here in the West who are at least somewhat familiar with Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) possibly imagine him as some kind of esoteric, aloof, withdrawn figure who lived a hermetic life of contemplation and occasionally produced a serious work of music, the liner notes paint a much different picture: “Takemitsu himself built a strong Japanese profile of remarkable versatility, with many scores for films and theatrical productions appearing alongside the more ‘serious’ concert compositions that won him success in the West. An engagingly unpretentious personality, he had a fastidious professionalism that he brought to bear on everything he undertook, even the writing of thrillers and participation in TV cookery competitions. At the same time, the kind of music represented on this disc ensured that he was among the most prominent of that generation of progressive composers – including Henze, Berio, Kurtág and Kagel – much sought after , especially during the 1980s and 1990s, when modernism was at its strongest, and before minimalism achieved its highest profile in mainstream concert programmes.” (How I would have loved to see Takemitsu  throw down with Bobby Flay…) 


Although these are four distinct works, they have much in common. All are substantial works that date from the later stages of Takemitsu’s career; in fact, the opening work, Spectral Canticle (at the beginning of the score he instructs the performers, “calm, mysteriously”), which he completed in 1995. is one of his last works. As you might expect from a composition for orchestra that feature a prominent role for an acoustic guitar – and no, this is not a double concerto (the violin and guitar play prominent roles, but are integrated into the music rather than being featured as soloists) – the music truly does sound calm and mysterious. Note that the next two selections also feature the guitar; again, however, To the Edge of Dream is not a guitar concerto, nor is Vers l’arc-en-ciel, Palma a double concerto for oboe d’amore and guitar. These three works that include the guitar all have that sense of calm and mystery (more the latter than the former overall), and the latter two works share the distinction of being inspired by works of art: To the Edge of Dream by the paintings of the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) and Vers l’arc-en-ciel, Palma borrows it title from  a work by Joan Miró (1893-1983), whom Takemitsu had met in 1970. 

Takemitsu dedicated the final composition on the program, Twill by Twilight, to the American composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987). For orchestra only, it shares with its discmates another characteristic that often seems  to manifest itself in Takemitsu’s music for orchestra, that being a sensation of waves, the music rising and falling. This sensation is not the steady pulse of minimalism; rather, it is as though the composer’s music is inspired by water – water in nature, water that s flowing, rippling, lapping up on the shore, swirling into eddies here and there, reflecting light, sometimes silent, occasionally roaring, reflecting and refracting, revealing and concealing. To listen to his music is to enter a musical world different from that of Mozart and Beethoven. It is more like that of Debussy, but certainly not the same as the French master. This well-engineered disc (I auditioned the two-channel stereo CD layer; there are also SACD stereo and 5.0 surround layers for those so equipped) is well worth an audition by those looking to expand their musical horizons. There is great beauty to be found here.    

Jun 4, 2023

Maya Beiser: Infinite Bach (CD Review)

 by Karl Nehring

J.S. Bach: (CD1) Cello Suite No. 1 in G major BWV 1007Cello Suite No. 3 in C major No. 3 in C major BWV 1009; (CD2) Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV 1005; Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor BWV 1011; (CD3) Cello Suite No. 4 in E flat major BWV 1010Cello Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012. Maya Beiser, cello. Islandia Music Records IMR012


The American cellist May Beiser (b. 1963) has brought us a recording of Bach’s Cello Suites that is unusual in several ways. For example, JJP has reviewed two recordings of the complete set in past installments of Classical Candor, one by Zuill Bailey on Telarc (reviewed here) and the other by Ovidiu Marinescu on Navona (reviewed here). Both are two-CD sets, and although JJP noted some slight differences in their sonic characteristics, both were recorded in straightforward stereophonic sound. But when you remove the shrink wrap and unfold the cardboard cover, you will discover that it holds not two but rather three CDs plus a booklet with an essay by Ms. Beiser that reveals some further surprises about her approach to both the music and the sound.


Of her approach to the music, she writes: “Embodying the spatial universe of Bach’s Cello Suites, I move away from the solemn transmission of a tradition. I look to expand the realm surrounding the artist and instrument. With this album I offer you my living, breathing voice and that of my cello anew. I spent 2022, my 60th year of life, immersed in recording, and rerecording, deconstructing and decontextualizing, experimenting and exploring sounds, reverberations, harmonics in my converted barn in the Berkshires, Massachusetts, engaging with Bach’s Cello Suites. Having dedicated the past 35 years to creating new music, work that reimagines the cello on a vast canvas in multiple disciplines, I radically departed from the conventional classical cello sound. Yet, the Suites were ingrained in my daily practice. Even as I was getting ready to perform a new work by Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, or David Bowie, I would still begin every day playing a movement from the Suites. Over the years I was experimenting with the process of unlearning the doctrine I was taught about this music, until last year when I took the time to relearn it anew.”


As for the sound, Infinite Bach has been has released it in both a spatial audio (available on Apple Music) and binaural mix (other media, including the CD release) with the goal of creating an immersive listening experience. Beiser used the acoustics of the room she recorded in to create layers of sound acoustically. She writes of the process, “I brought my longtime sound engineer and collaborator, Dave Cook, to the space and we started exploring the acoustic environment. I considered how the space itself uncovers, informs and reshapes my interpretation of the Bach Suites, feeding back the music to me as I play and record it. We mixed many microphones placed at various distances in the resonant space to emphasize nuances in overtones, reflections, and reverberations. Analyzing the multichannel recording, identifying and accentuating the natural drones and harmonics, we further reinforced the resonances and macro harmonic structure of the music. In the spatial audio mix, we aimed to bring the listening experience into the room; guiding the listener through the virtual space as the music infinitely evolves around them.” Listeners can get a sense of her approach from both a musical and sonic perspective from videos that Ms. Beiser has posted on YouTube here as well as here. To get a sense of the binaural mix, listening through headphones is the best bet. As to the significance of the water showers, well…


Clearly, this is not just another traversal of the Bach Cello Suites. It is a highly personal account recorded in an unusual fashion. For my own listening to Infinite Bach, I generally preferred headphones over speakers, which is highly unusual. But either way, what I heard was a large, resonant sound – a cello filling a large space with the dancing energy of Bach. It was certainly a different sound than that of Starker on Mercury Living Presence, my faithful standard in this music for many years. In comparison to the Beiser recording, the Starker recording sounds drier, more focused, more straightforward – not to say that Starker lacks energy or passion, both of which he certainly brings to the music in abundance – but the combination of Beiser’s generally slower, more overtly expressive interpretive approach, combined with the vast resonant soundfield created by the unusual engineering approach, results in a much different way for the listener to experience this wondrous music of Bach. 

Although I suppose there will be some who will dismiss this new release as overly indulgent on both musical and sonic terms, I am not one of them. I will confess that the “shower” video really baffled me, but a silly YouTube video does not mean the album itself is silly. Ms. Beiser is a truly gifted musician, she digs deeply into this music, and she offers us a different perspective on music that can unfortunately seem dry and academic if we do not give it our close attention, which Infinite Bach aims to seduce us into doing. I truly delight in both the Starker and Beiser recordings; indeed, Beiser's is the first I have come across (and I have listened to many) that I have decided to file it on my shelf next to the Starker set. It's a keeper. 


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