Sep 27, 2023

Recent Releases No. 60 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Wonderland. Makiko Kinoshita: Ashita no uta; Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals: I. Two Dreams and Little Bat; Gjeilo: A Dream within a Dream; Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals: II. Cuckoo in the Pear-Tree; Francesca Amewudah-Rivers: Alive; Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals: III. The Alphabet; Joe Hisaishi: I was there; Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals: IV. Flying Robert; Judith Bingham: Tricksters; Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals: V. The Lobster Quadrille; Malcolm Williamson: The Musicians of Bremen; Ligeti: Nonsense Madrigals: VI. A Long, Sad Tale; Paul Patterson: Time Piece. The King's Singers. Signum Classics SGCD739

The King’s Singers is one of those British musical groups that just seem to have been around forever, kind of like the Rolling Stones. Unlike Jagger and company, however, they don’t look or sound like a bunch of withered old men: they have obviously changed members over the years. Their website (which you can find here) is full of useful information about the group, including an account of their origin: “People often ask us where our name comes from, and the answer is from King's College, Cambridge. The original six members of The King's Singers were all choral scholars at King's College, part of Cambridge University. They first recorded in 1965, under the not-so-catchy name 'Schola Cantorum Pro Musica Profana in Cantabridgiense'. This recording put the group into the consciousness of the famous conductor Sir Neville Marriner, who in August 1966, invited them to perform in concert. Several more concerts followed, under the name 'Six Choral Scholars of King's College, Cambridge', before, on 1st May 1968, the group made its London debut in another of Neville Marriner's concerts, this time under another new name: The King's Singers.” The current lineup that performs on this release comprises Patrick Dunachie, first countertenor; Edward Button, second countertenor; Julian Gregory, tenor; Christopher Bruerton, first baritone; Nick Ashby, second baritone; Jonathan Howard, bass.

The music on Wonderland features compositions commissioned by the ensemble over its 55-year history, highlighted by the six Nonsense Madrigals by the late Hungarian composer György Ligeti. In addition, to honor Ligeti’s 100th birthday in 2023, The King’s Singers commissioned six sets of cartoons, each of which has since been turned into a music video by illustrator Coralie Muce, to accompany the six Nonsense Madrigals. A QR code included in the CD booklet provides a link to these colorful videos for those who might be interested in seeing them. The  booklet also includes lyrics for all of the works on the album along with background information on the history of the ensemble. The music itself is varied, although there are threads that bind the album together. For example, woven throughout the Nonsense Madrigals is the fairytale The Musicians of Bremen, which has been set to music by the Australian composer and Master of the Queen's Music Malcolm Williamson, a piece that was premiered by The King’s Singers in 1972. Ola Gjeilo's A Dream within a Dream, which questions the very nature of perception and reality, sets the stage for much of the music on the album, which is replete with lyrics that blur the line between the real and the imaginary: Paul Patterson’s Time Piece tells an eccentric alternative creation story (1972); and Judith Bingham’s Tricksters imagines what could happen if pranksters from different world mythologies came together for the first time. 

The recorded sound of the voices is flawless. The only potential negative aspect of this release is that the voices sound so similar from song to song. I can imagine some listeners just finding that sound to be too much of a good thing. Other listeners will love every moment of it. The King’s Singers are a world-class vocal ensemble, and Signum has done a remarkable job in putting this thoughtfully crafted package together. A remarkable release.

 

Seven Psalms. Paul Simon. The LordLove Is Like a BraidMy Professional OpinionYour ForgivenessTrail of VolcanoesThe Sacred HarpWait. Paul Simon, Vocals, Harmonica, Bells, Chromelodeon, Cloud Chamber Bowls, Dobro, Frame Drum, Gamelan, Glockenspiel, Gong, Gopichan, Guitars, Harmonium, Keyboards, Percussion, Talking Drum; Nadia Sirota, Viola;

Alexandra Sopp, Flute; Nina Stern, Chalumeau. Edie Brickell, vocals; Voces8, vocals. Owl Records 19658779112

 

Seven Psalms is unlike any Paul Simon album that you have ever heard. You won’t hear anything upbeat like “Kodachrome,” and no, Paul is no longer heading to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, where he once felt sure to be received. Older now, and losing his hearing, he has other things on his mind, as evidenced by lyrics that begin: “I've been thinking about the great migration / Noon and night they leave the flock / And I imagine their destination / Meadow grass, jagged rock / The Lord is my engineer / The Lord is the earth I ride on / The Lord is the face in the atmosphere / The path I slip and I slide on.” Shortly thereafter he sings, “The Covid virus is the Lord / The Lord is the ocean rising / The Lord is a terrible swift sword / A simple truth surviving.” As the music continues in an unbroken stream, Simon’s musings turn inward as he contemplates his own mortality. 


The Tom & Jerry of “Hey, Schoolgirl!” and Simon and Garfunkel of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” are now distant memories; the hard-of-hearing veteran musician has entered his 80s only to discover that “life is a meteor” and that it may soon be “time to come home.” This album is very likely his final recorded musical statement. The album is brief at just over 33 minutes, but there are many questions raised in  that brief span. Those with an interest in this album will be pleased to learn that the lyrics are included in the CD booklet. There you will find poetry to both delight and disturb even as you enjoy the imaginative and stimulating sounds coming from your speakers, earbuds, or headphones. 

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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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa