Recent Releases No. 58 (CD Reviews)

 by Karl Nehring

What Music Tells Me. Beethoven: Egmont Overture; Wagner (1813-1883); Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral (from Lohengrin); Messiaen: Apparition de L’eglise Éternelle (Apparition of the Eternal Church); Healey Willan (1880-1968): How They So Softly Rest; William C. White (b.1983): Flood of Waters (Noah and the Flood); Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn (“St. Anthony Variations”); Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” – Urlicht, Finale (Andante). Chicago Brass and Organ Ensemble; Stephen Squires, conductor. MSR Classics MS 1750


This is one of those releases that on first glance, I simply did not quite know what to expect. Having grown up in northwest Indiana I was familiar with the gargoyles that look down upon downtown Chicago pedestrians, so the name of the ensemble struck me as perfectly appropriate, but the musical program, although intriguing, left me hesitant as to how it would come across when played by organ and brass. Well, only one way to find out, so I stuck the disc in my CD player and hit PLAY button. Here we go… From the familiar opening measures of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, I was delighted by how enjoyable it was to hear this familiar music presented this in this different sonority. It just sounded right. Somehow the energy of the brass and the organ captured the fervor of Beethoven’s score in a fresh, exciting way that did not sound at all gimmicky or contrived. And so it went through the rest of the program, with highlights including the Messiaen, whose spiritually informed music lends itself especially well to being arranged for brass and organ, and the Brahms, upon which this arrangement throws a new light. The most ambitious arrangement is the Mahler, which is certainly interesting to hear, but try as I might, I could never quite get past the lack of voices. Still, I admire the audacity and skill of these players in presenting this magnificent music in this form. Fans of the composer Mahler will no doubt recognize his influence on the title of this release; indeed, let me close my review of this highly recommendable release with these words from its liner notes: “Leader Rodney Holmes has curated this collection of masterworks following the inspiration of Gustav Mahler who said, If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music.


Luminous. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004): Toccata; Samuel Coleridge Taylor (1875-1912): 24 Negro Melodies, Op. 24 – No. 1, At the Dawn of the Day; No. 3, Take Nabandji; No. 4, They Would Not Lend Me a Child; No. 8, The Bamboula; No. 12, Don’t Be Weary, Traveler; N0. 13, Going Up; Ulysses Kay (1917-1995): 8 Inventions – I. Allegro; II. Moderato; III. Andantino; IV. Scherzando; V. Grave; VI. Moderato; VII. Larghetto; VIII. Presto: Nnenna Ogwo (b. 1970) Benediction; Brahms: Chaconne (from J.S. Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2, BWV 1004) arranged for the left hand alone. Nnenna Ogwo, piano. MSR Classics MS 1819 

An American pianist of Caribbean and African descent, Nnenna Ogwo (b. 1970) has put together an album that is refreshing and stimulating, featuring a program that is somewhat off the beaten path yet comfortable and eminently listenable, an album that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of music lovers. Much of the reason Luminous is such an accessible release is that it is a deeply personal release. In her program notes, Ogwo explains, “The program has all the elements of music that bring the art to such vibrant life; joy and pain, song and dance, the substantive and the ephemeral. This album is the utterance that I could not make when my mother left this plane of existence. It is music that she loved or that I know she would have loved. It is a curation that reflects my cultural heritage, my personal history at the instrument and the depth of my love and admiration for her. I hope it speaks to you.” The program opens energetically with Perkinson’s Toccata, which sounds something like a cross between Bach and ragtime – it’s a fun piece. The Melodies of Coleridge-Taylor are expressive, colorful, but not excessively showy. Especially fascinating are the 8 Invention of Ulysses Kay, all but one under two minutes in length, each a compelling little jewel. Wonderful! Ogwo’s Benediction is a brief (1:51), heartfelt, calming piece; given its title and mood, I’m surprised it was not placed at the end of the program. Instead, the program ends with the Brahms transcription of the Bach, played with the left hand. There are times when the piano sounds something like a harpsichord. Although this transcription is interesting, it feels a bit out of sync with the rest of the program. Still, all things considered, Ms. Ogwo has delivered an album that is well worth a listen.

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa