Oct 29, 2023

Recent Releases No. 63 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (Reimagined by Chad Kelly). Rachel Podger, violin; Brecon Baroque (Huw Daniel, violin; Jane Rogers, Viola; Alexander Rolton; cello; Jan Spencer, violone; Katy Bircher, flute; Daniel Lanthier, oboe; Leo Duarte, oboe; Inga Klaucke, bassoon; Chad Kelly, harpsichord). Channel Classics CCS5A44923

Typically, when we are reviewing a new release of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, we are considering yet another recording by a pianist. Recently, for example, the exciting young Icelandic piano virtuoso has released a recording on DG (although we have been promised a CD for review, we have not yet received it; perhaps we will have to resort to streaming it.) Then follow the usual comparisons to the touchstone recordings by Gould, Perahia, et al. – plus perhaps some discussion of the relative merits of piano v. harpsichord performances of the work. Here, however, we have something completely different: a “reimagining” of the piece for a small Baroque ensemble. In the booklet included with the CD, harpsichordist and arranger Chad Kelly writes of Bach’s famous composition: “Through its immortalization on screen, in books, and through certain seminal recordings, listeners and performers alike can easily become detached from its deeply personal identity. Despite what many respected and respectful commentators have propagated, it is not a sacrosanct work of pure, absolute, and abstract art. Nor should it become merely a revered museum piece. It is with this mandate that this new arrangement and recording has been undertaken. The arrangement attempts to be idiomatic to the historical instruments used in its performance and to the individual styles and genres referenced in the work, whilst remaining true to the essence of the piece. At times it has required a liberal reading of the original text, prioritizing an authenticity to the to the instruments performing the music over the notes on the page.” 


Immediately with the opening aria it is evident that the phrasing of the familiar  melody just sounds different from that which we are accustomed to hear from keyboard performances, be they piano or harpsichord. As the variations unfold, the overall impression is that of a kind of blending of the Goldbergs with something akin to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Although that might sound as if I am making some sort of snide putdown, please believe me when I say that no, I am not intending to demean this arrangement. Truth be told, I find the music on this release to be quite delightful, even though it takes quite a few “liberal readings” of the original text. Hey, what the heck?! Whip me, beat me, call me a liberal – this interpretation is both lively and lovely. If you’d like to hear the Goldberg Variations in a whole new (old, actually – Baroque ensemble) light, this new release is well worth a listen. 


Purcell: Fantazias in three and four parts. John Holloway Ensemble (John Holloway, violin; Monika Baer, viola; Renate Steinmann, viola; Martin Zeller, violincello. ECM New Series 2249


The English composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695) is a composer that many reading this blog have most likely heard about as a figure in music history; however, I would venture a guess that the majority of music lovers have heard very little – if any – of the man’s music. On this new release from ECM, the British violinist and prominent figure in the early music movement has invited three colleagues to join him in presenting these 12 Fantazias. Holloway has great respect for Purcell, and in fact is willing to put this music in the same lofty category as that of Bach: “Only just out of his teens, Purcell already shows his extraordinary ability, shared by few composers of any other era, to walk the fine line between joy and sorrow, to beautifully express the melancholy which was such a characteristic mood of his times; and all this within the strictest self-imposed disciplines of complex counterpoint. Nowadays we regard J.S. Bach as the greatest of all contrapuntists. He would have been immensely proud to have composed this music, and had he encountered it, would certainly have acknowledged it as equal to his finest achievements in this art.” Listening to the four (or occasionally three) players weave their way through their parts, it is easy to conclude, as does Holloway, that this is some truly engrossing counterpoint that casts a spell in the same way that Bach’s music can do. For those who enjoy Baroque counterpoint, especially those who might be curious about the music of Purcell, this gloriously performed and engineered ECM release is certainly well worth seeking out.

Sigur RósÁttaGlóðBlóðbergSkelKletturMórAndráGoldYlurFall8. Sigur Rós (Jón Dór Birgisson [“Jónsi”], guitar, vocals; Georg Holm, bass; Kjartan Sveinsson, keyboards, synthesizers); Strings performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Robert Ames; Brass on Klettur and 8 performed by Brassgat í bala; Percussion on GlóðKletturGold, and 8 performed by Ólafur Björn Ólafsson. Additional violin on Klettur performed by Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttír. BMG 538920412


I was just about ready to write that although I have occasionally reviewed releases by jazz artists previously in Classical Candor, on the grounds that jazz can be reasonably thought of as a form of chamber music, I have not yet reviewed a release by a rock group – but then I suddenly remembered a couple of posts that I made that although technically may not have been reviews of releases by rock groups, were pretty darn close. The first was back in 2021 when I wrote about classical and jazz artists who covered the rock group Radiohead (see those reviews here), while the second was a brief discussion of a 2001 release by the rock group Low, which I included in an addendum (which you can read here) to my favorite releases of 2022. Now here I am in 2023 with a review of Átta (“Eight”), the new album (it’s their eighth full album, their first in 10 years) by the Icelandic rock group Sigur Rós. Lest you think I have gone completely off the rails in reviewing an album by a rock group in Classical Candor, allow me to make a couple of quick points. First, Sigur Rós is not really a typical rock band; their lyrics are often in an imaginary language, their musical lines are often extended and flowing, and they have experience playing with symphony orchestras, as in this concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Second, Átta, as you can see from the description above, is an album that features prominent contributions by Aclassical musicians.

The band’s vocalist Jónsi says of the album that they just wanted “to have minimal drums and for the music to be really sparse, floaty and beautiful.” The band self-produced album at Sundlaugin Studio, on the rural outskirts of Reykjavik, with the strings laid down at London’s iconic Abbey Road. Sveinsson agrees: “We wanted to allow ourselves to be a bit dramatic and go far with these arrangements. The world needs that right now. After COVID and everything, people just need something nice. It’s hard to describe, but for me everything is always open to interpretation. People can think and feel how they want.” Bassist Holm reflects, “I remember when I was a kid, I’d have this feeling of things being really big and really small at the same time. I like the idea that’s what this record is. There’s a 32-piece orchestra and loads of reverb, but at the same time some of the songs are just like a small dot. This record sounds like a Sigur Rós album, but it’s more introvert than before. It’s very expansive with this sound of strings, but it looks within more than outside.” 

In many ways, the music has a classical feel to it. Jónsi’s voice has an ethereal, otherworldly quality, enhanced here by the engineering – the “loads of reverb” give his vocals extra presence that blend well with the sound of the orchestra. Without meaningful words to draw listeners’ attention, what remains is the sound, the vocals becoming another instrument in the mix. Despite the number of musicians involved, the music comes across with a directness that makes for immediate emotional connection. Much closer to classical than rock, Átta is an album that the more adventurous among our readers might well want to give a listen.

Oct 25, 2023

Rachmaninoff: The Piano Concertos and Paganini Rhapsody (CD Review)

by Ryan Ross

Yuja Wang, piano; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor. Deutsche Grammophon 486 4759 (2 CDs) 

It is a strange coincidence that as I have been listening to these Rachmaninoff discs, I just finished reading Samuel Lipman’s Music After Modernism (Basic Books, 1979). This book is a series of essays outlining the author’s thoughts about the Western classical tradition during what he saw as its twilight years. One of his arguments is that the lack of vital new repertoire adopted by performers in any enduring way sees them adding new interpretations of well-established favorites to an ever-growing backlog. One wonders what Lipman would have thought of the explosion of previously unrecorded repertoire and its champions from the 1980s up to the present, with the advent of the compact disc and then streaming. (Since he passed away in 1994, his experience of these developments would have been limited or non-existent.) But given the tone of his book, I have a feeling that Lipman would quickly point to the uninterrupted proliferation of standard repertoire recordings, and how relatively few of them measure up to the old favorites we perennially celebrate. 


This is what I kept thinking about as I took in these performances by Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel, and a decidedly diminutive Los Angeles Philharmonic. Beyond the furtherance of careers involved, or perhaps special sympathies with the performers, on what basis can I recommend this product? Regretfully, the answer is “little.” Truthfully, most of that “little” goes to Wang’s piano technique. I agree with the buzz: she does fast and brilliant very well. Maybe too well. Because when I look for other reasons to praise her playing here, I struggle to find many. Even in the slower passages, where she ostensibly gets into the emotion and lyricism of the music, I often find that it feels like serving time until the next opportunity for technical brilliance. When one listens carefully to these passages, they harbor a certain metronomical core. It’s as if someone coached her on how to be expressive, and she’s imitating their example more than really exemplifying it. This is less of a problem in the more ostentatious works and moments; her First and ThirdConcerti are better than the rest. 

Her other performances here aren’t even really bad. It’s just that in such a saturated field, nothing quite measures up. When one can choose rapt, heartrending interpretations by Pennario, Richter, Horowitz, Ashkenazy, Graffman (her teacher!), and others (not to mention the composer’s own), why should one shell out full price for hers? Maybe she equals or outdoes most of them in terms of sheer technique, but if the tears, tenderness, colors, and beauty of this repertoire are important, the buyer has many better options.


Much as I am cool on Wang’s pianism beyond technique, she gets little help here from Dudamel and the LA Phil. I don’t know whether or not conductor and soloist made a prior agreement that the orchestra would go to great lengths not to upstage or obscure the piano, but its role in these performances is unacceptably meek. The problem is less severe in many of the tutti sections than it is in stretches when the orchestra accompanies the piano. Taking the Second Concerto as an example, the opening sounds particularly strange, with everyone but Wang trying hard to recede into the background. A thankfully present clarinet in the opening of the second movement bucks the trend before the orchestral muting resumes in the finale. 

The same issues trouble the Fourth Concerto’s quicker movements. But even where the tutti sections without piano are loud and clear, their special moments (notably in the climax of the Second Concerto’sFinale and the famous 18th variation of the Paganini Rhapsody) feel oddly routine. This is why I actually find Wang’s earlier recording of the Second Concerto with Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (DG 477 9308) to be the better choice. It’s more of the same Sonic-the-Hedgehog pianism, but at least we have a conductor who lets the orchestra play with suitable fullness. 

 Lest the reader think I am being too hard on Wang, I want to close with a constructive suggestion. I’ve seen her perform high-octane repertoire that requires edgy brilliance rather than lush Romantic sentiment, and I think she’s generally amazing with this music. Her Ligeti, Adams, and Kapustin, for example, are stunning. Moreover, these composers all prove that great (yes, great) piano compositions were still being composed in the closing decades of the twentieth century and beyond. If she were to concentrate even more on recording and championing them, so much the better. And, per Lipman’s prescription, the classical tradition itself would only gain health and longevity. 

Oct 22, 2023

Recent Releases No. 62 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring 

Something that these three releases all have in common is they all boast audiophile-quality sound. Two of them, in fact, are from labels with audiophile credentials: Reference Recordings and Sono Luminus. The third is from Hyperion, a small label from the UK that although not necessarily known as an audiophile label, has produced some superbly engineered recordings. To be honest, recording technology and practices have come a long way over the past 50 years. Many labels almost routinely release recordings that would have been considered “audiophile-quality” back in the 1970s when the underground audio magazines started touting such things. That said, we sometimes come across recordings that just seem to have something special about their sound quality. Note also that these three are not the stereotypical audiophile spectaculars featuring booming bass drums or huge brass choirs; no, these are recordings of chamber music. Enjoy! 

Spanish Impressions. Enrique Fernandez Arbos: Trois Pièces originales dans le genre Espagnol (Three Spanish Dances), Op. 1; Joaquin Turina: Piano Trio No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 76; Gaspar Cassado: Piano Trio in C Major; Mariano Perello: Tres Impresiones para violin, violincello y piano. Hermitage Piano Trio (Ilya Kazantsev, piano; Sergey Antonov, cello; Misha Keylin, violin). Reference Recordings RR-151 


As the three musicians of the Hermitage Piano Trio remind us with their new recording of Spanish trios, it does not always take an orchestra of 100+ musicians playing a symphony by Mahler to generate musical excitement. Chamber music can be powerful, too, especially the richly expressive music of Spain. On this new release from Reference Recordings, the program includes music by composers both familiar and unfamiliar. As the album’s producers explain it, “For the last several years we have been exchanging scores, ideas and developing programs. The trio had been performing two extraordinary Spanish trios by Turina and Cassado—romantic, exotic and lush works. Using these two works as anchor points, we built around them “bookends”—three Spanish dances by Arbos and three Spanish impressions by Perello. All four composers are interconnected to one another through their relationships to each other. Arbos was a celebrated conductor who also orchestrated Albeniz’s Iberia and Perello was a violinist who studied with Albeniz and performed with Granados—both of these gentlemen had close ties to Turina (Arbos conducted many of his works) and Cassado (a celebrated cellist, and next to Casals, among the greatest cellists of Spain).” 

The album draws the listener in immediately from the opening measures of Arbos’s 
Three Spanish Dances, which are ripe with rhythmic zest. And thus it continues throughout the program – a musical voyage through the Spanish imagination, presented in remarkably realistic sound by the engineering team at Reference Recordings, led by the veteran audio wizard  Keith O. Johnson, a prominent figure in audiophile circles about whom you can learn more here. You can gain some more insight into Spanish Impressions by watching this brief YouTube video in which the musicians discuss the album. This is a recording that will bring a smile to your face and a spring to your step.


Mozart: (CD1) Piano Sonata in D Major K311Piano Sonata in A Minor K310Piano Sonata in C Major K330Fantasia in C Minor K396 (completed by Maximilian Stadler)Fantasia in D Minor K397; (CD2) Piano Sonata in A Major K331Piano Sonata in F Major K332Piano Sonata in B Flat Major K333. Angela Hewitt, piano. Hyperion CDA6841/2


The Canadian-born pianist Angela Hewitt (b. 1958), who now resides in London, was the one of pianists whose album I included in my very first “Piano Potpourri” post, which you can see here. Immediately following the recording sessions for that album, Hewitt received the shocking news that the piano movers who had come to transport her $200,000 Fazioli piano with its custom-installed fourth pedal had somehow managed to drop the instrument, which turned out to be irreparably damaged. Hewitt had made recordings and even played some concerts in Europe with her beloved piano for 17 years, so this was a real blow. However, things have a way of working out; the mover’s insurers covered the replacement expense and Hewitt was eventually offered her choice of five new Fazioli concert grands, from which she chose her new best musical friend. Thus settled, Hewitt has undertaken a project to record the complete Mozart piano sonatas, to be released on three two-CD sets. The first of these sets, containing the first seven sonatas (K279-284 and K309), was released by Hyperion in November, 2022. This new Hyperion release marks the second installment of Hewitt's chronological survey. These works date from Mozart's twenties and include his first masterpieces in the genre (K331, with its famous 'Alla turca' finale, for example). 


These middle sonatas of Mozart are simply marvels of melody. Not too simple, not too complex – just right. Bill Heck and I recently talked about the piano music of Mozart, about how it so seamlessly integrates structure and melody. Hewitt’s playing brings out every little nuance, drawing the listener into the music. She has a delicate touch, making the music seem to flow naturally and inevitably from note to note, phrase to phrase, measure to measure. Hewitt has a reputation as a Bach specialist; perhaps her precision in mastering that music formed the basis for her mastery of the music of Mozart. Moreover, the beauty of her playing is highlighted by the recorded sound, which captures the sound of her Fazioli in rich, natural, lifelike tones. With CD1 clocking in at 80 minutes and CD2 at 75 plus informative notes about the music by the pianist herself, there is plenty to like about this production. There are plenty of excellent Mozart sonata recordings out there, several of which I have reviewed in the past, but I’ve never heard better than this one, which of course earns my highest recommendation.

Sonic Alchemy. Vasks: Balta Ainava (White Scenery); Pärt: Fratres; Mozart: Fantasia in D minor, K. 397; Pärt: Mozart-Adagio (after Sonata K. 280); Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K. 475; Vasks: Castillo Interior (Interior Castle); Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel. YuEun Kim, violin; Mina Gajić, piano; Coleman Itzkoff, cello. Sono Luminus DSL-92261


Pianist Mina Gajić says of this album that it was “inspired by the transformation and fluidity of life, represented by the seasons in nature, and in humankind in the way people connect through religion and spirituality.” In its own way, Sonic Alchemy is something of a spiritual album, but not in the way that a mass or other liturgically-oriented composition would be. The program is a fascinating one, spanning two centuries  to bring together the music of Mozart with that of two contemporary composers, Arvo Pärt and Pēteris Vasks. Icelandic composer Páll Ragnar Pálsson, who contributed the album’s liner notes, writes “Despite the roughly 200 years that separate Mozart from Vasks and Pärt, there are elements that connect them. Similarly to Pärt and Vasks who needed to find a way to deal with the oppressive rule of the Soviet Union, Mozart also made a well-known declaration of independence. He left the archbishop in Salzburg and the financial security that followed and embarked on a path of what we would call freelance composing today. Mozart, Pärt and Vasks all share a deep sense of clarity that crystalizes in music that comforts and elevates your spirit.” 

The program is centered around Mozart. The centerpiece is Pärt’s Mozart-Adagio (after Sonata K. 280), which is actually the only piece on the album in which all three players combine as a trio. It is framed on the program by the two Mozart Fantasias, played by pianist Mina Gajić, who is also featured on the opening track, the peaceful and reflective Balta Ainava (White Scenery). Gajić is joined by cellist  Coleman Itzkoff both for the second track, Pärt’s Fratres, and in a bit of symmetry, in the sixth (and next-to-last) track, Vasks’s Castillo Interior.  On the final track, Pärt’s simply constructed but nonetheless haunting Spiegel im Spiegel, Gajić is joined by violinist YuEun Kim.  Contributing to the deep beauty of the album is the purity of its sound, which was engineered by Daniel Shore and Erica Brenner at the Sono Luminus Studios in Boyce, Virginia, where it was mixed and mastered using Legacy Audio speakers (the same speakers Bill Heck and I use for reviews). Sonic Alchemy is a marvelous album of chamber music, an appealing blend of old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, impeccably performed and recorded.

Oct 18, 2023

In Memoriam: Lars Vogt (Streaming Review)

 by Bill Heck

Brahms: Double Concerto, Op 192; Viotti: Violin Concerto No. 22; Dvorak: Silent Woods, Op.68/5. Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Paavo Järvi/Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Ondine ODE 1423-2

In case the title of this album doesn’t make it clear, the heartfelt booklet notes, taken from conversations with Christian and Tonja Tetzlaff, explain that this recording is a memorial tribute to the late Lars Vogt, the pianist with whom both Tetzlaffs and Järvi recorded frequently and who passed away in September 2022, just before his 52nd birthday.

Brahms’s Double Concerto was chosen for this album in part for the obvious reason that it was written for violin, cello, and orchestra, thus involving all of these musicians. But the remaining reasons are related to the album’s reason for being: all of these musicians had recorded pieces by Brahms with Vogt and, as the notes explain, the work “…deals with friendship…as well as drama and life’s storms…music…that tells of dark things but always endeavors to offer consolation.”

The Tetzlaffs also tell us that Brahms had had a falling out with his violinist friend Joachim and this concerto was “…an olive branch….” This is not to imply (so far as I can tell) that Vogt had fallen out with any of our current players, only that it was an expression of deep friendship on Brahms’s part that was reflected in their friendship with Vogt.

Lars Vogt
By the way, for those readers who are not musicians, the bonds formed by making music with others can be amazingly deep. I’ve experienced this in a small way and have seen incredibly deep friendships formed and expressed, even (sadly) in situations very much like the one that we find here: fellow musicians in deep mourning over the early loss of a colleague.

As the Double Concerto is a well-known concert staple and has been recorded innumerable times, my remarks about this performance will be brief. With so many fine recordings available, it would be impossible to name the “best”, but I do hear this one as quite fine. Perhaps it’s just a matter of knowing the background, but the playing here seems particularly committed, even passionate, especially on the parts of the soloists. The orchestral contribution is well-played and superbly measured to compliment the solo instruments, keeping things grounded, as it were, without sounding detached. Even the third movement, played here in a particularly dance-like manner, seems to remember the joy of friendship, and the good times before the loss, certainly a fine way to memorialize a cherished friend.

The Viotti work is far less well-known than just about anything by Brahms. Giovanni Battista Viotti was born in in Italy in 1755; he grew to be a highly influential and well respected virtuoso violinist and an important composer, not to mention the owner of what became known as the Viotti Stradivarius. His life became, shall we say, colorful and intriguing when he moved to England, only to become entangled in European politics late in the 18th century. More to the current point, he wrote some 29 violin concertos, the most famous and popular of which, number 22, is the work heard here. He is said to have influenced Beethoven; Brahms wrote of number 22 in a letter to Clara Schumann that “the A minor Concerto by Viotti is my very special raptures… The very best things, that is, Mozart concertos, and the above one by Viotti.” These days, Viotti still is highly regardeded in Italy, where the Viotti International Music Competition has been held every year since 1950. (Ironically, the Competition is for pianists and vocalists in alternate years - but never for violinists.)

Giovanni Battista Viotti
Although this work, and indeed all Viotti’s violin concertos, have been recorded a few times, mostly by rather obscure violinists, modern audiences are not quite as impressed with his work as was Brahms. Nevertheless, the Concerto is a pleasant, good-natured work, certainly worth hearing in this very well done performance. The first movement kicks off in A minor (the same key as the Brahms piece), shortly popping into a major, then, as if remembering that it’s supposed to be serious, reverting to the minor. That darker mood just can’t be sustained, though, and the development spends most of its time in tuneful major key exuberance, returning to the minor for an energetic cadenza to conclude the movement. While that first movement was typically classical in form, the second, the Adagio, hints at the romantic era to come with a few harmonies that sound downright Brahmsian. Once again, the soloist takes us to the end of the movement: clearly this is a violinist's violin concerto. The third and final movement, marked Agitato Assai, once again starts a bit darkly in the minor, but just can’t resist the temptation to romp out into the sunshine for a happy conclusion.

Throughout all this, Christian Tetzlaff plays with energy and focus, while Järvi and his Berliners provide excellent support in what is, after all, a piece dominated by the soloist. Given the small number of available options, this recording is an obvious choice for anyone interested in hearing the work of a lesser but still engaging late classical composer.

Finally, Dvorak’s Silent Woods, the fifth movement of From the Bohemian Forest, is a lovely, elegiac choice that receives an appropriately lovely performance here. If there ever was a piece of music in which one can hear a goodbye bidden to a treasured friend, this is it.

Ondine’s recorded sound is excellent, providing clarity that makes it easy to follow the soloists and the orchestral parts, with the music emerging from a dead quiet background. I could quibble about a bit less depth than the best, but that would be a quibble indeed.

Judged solely on the quality of the music and the performances, without reference to its genesis, this is a fine release. The fact that it is a memorial to an excellent musician who will be missed is just icing on the cake.

Oct 15, 2023

Recent Releases No. 61 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, “Jeunehomme,” K. 271Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K. 491. Lars Vogt, piano and conductor; Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. Ondine  ODE 1414-2

Many music lovers already know that this release is one of the few final recordings made by the late German pianist Lars Vogt (1970-2022). The CD booklet includes an interview with the recording producer Christophe Franke, who was a good friend of Vogt’s. Franke points out that at the time Vogt recorded the album, he was already undergoing chemotherapy. “He came to Paris with noticeably less hair, with grey skin, a pale complexion. And yet, or precisely for this reason, Lars absolutely wanted to record this album. For all the unshakable optimism that Lars radiated at all times, he knew that he probably had no chance. But he believed that a miracle perhaps would occur. This ambivalence was in the air the whole time: the hope in the impossible and at the same time the knowledge that it probably would be futile.” Is there any better capsule description of the music on this program? These two concertos manage to intermingle feelings of hope and hopelessness while expressing both with deft artistry, both in their composition (thanks to Mozart) and their performance (thanks to Vogt and the Chamber Orchestra of Paris). The engineers and producers also deserve special mention for the pleasing sound quality and touching liner notes, which combine to make this a remarkable release in every way. 

Yussef Dayes: Black Classical MusicBlack Classical MusicAfro Cubanism;  Raisins Under the SunRustTurquoise GalaxyThe LightPon di PlazaMagnolia SymphonyEarly DayesChasing the DrumBirds of ParadiseGelatoMarching BandCrystal Palace ParkPresidentialJukeboxWoman's TouchTioga PassCowrie Charms. Yussef Dayes, drums, vocals; Charlie Stacey, piano, keyboards, synthesizers; Venna, saxophone; Rocco Palladino, bass; Alexander Bourt, congas, percussion; Rory Cashmere Pagan, live Fx; Shabaka Hutchings, bass clarinet; Miles James, guitar, synthesizers; Sheila Maurice Grey, trumpet; Nathaniel Cross, tuba; Tom Misch, guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals; Paris Fabienne, vocals; Chronixx, vocals, guitar, bass; Adrian “Jerks” Henry, bass; Chineke! Orchestra; Dave Dayes, vocals; Luzinho do Jêfé, percussion, vocals; Tito Oliveira De Souza, drums; Masego, vocals; Elijah Fox, keyboards, synthesizers; Maxwell Hunter, bass; Jahaan Sweet, keyboards, vocals, production; Alex Bonfanti, bass; Laurie Blundell, Percussion; Jamilah Barry, Vocals; Barbara Hicks, savasana; Leon Thomas, vocals. Ravenswood Recordings (UK) – Nonesuch (USA)


As evidenced by the title of his new album, London-born drummer and composer Yussef Dayes (b. 1993) has a high regard for the history and heritage of jazz. "What is jazz?” asks the young drummer. “Where did the word derive from? Birthed in New Orleans, born in the belly of the Mississippi River, rooted in the gumbo pot of the Caribbean, South American culture, and African rituals. Continuing a lineage of Miles Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong -- music that is forever evolving limitless in its potential. The groove, its feeling, the compositions, the spontaneity, with a love for family, the discipline and dedication in maintaining the very high bar set by the pantheon of Black Classical Musicians. Chasing the rhythm of drums that imitated one's heartbeat, the melodies for the mind and spirit, the bass for the core. A regal sound for this body of music." And that is what you hear throughout the 74 minutes of this eclectic, energetic, enthusiastic album. Don’t let the long list of credits mislead you; not everyone plays at once. Instead, various combinations play in a variety of styles, usually anchored by Dayes’s exuberant drumming. This is optimistic music that can’t help but lift your spirits, as you can see from this video of a live performance of the title cut. Even if you don’t consider yourself a jazz fan, you just might want to give Black Classical Music a listen.

Oct 11, 2023

Stillpoint (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Jessie Montgomery: Rounds; Paolo Prestini: Code; Alvin Singleton: Time Past, Time Future; Pēteris Vasks: Castillo Interior; Tyshawn Sorey: Untitled Composition for Piano and Eight Voices; Judd Greenstein: Still Point. Awadagin Pratt, piano; Roomful of Teeth, voices; A Far Cry, strings. New Amsterdam NWAM177-CD


Way back in 1994 I reviewed a solo piano recording titled A Long Way from Normal by a young African-American pianist by the name of Awadagin Pratt. Born in Pittsburgh, Pratt began studying piano at the age of six. By age nine, having moved to Normal, Illinois thus the title of his first album) with his family, he also began studying violin. At age 16 he entered the University of Illinois where he studied piano, violin, and conducting. He subsequently enrolled at the Peabody Conservatory of Music where he became the first student in the school’s history to receive diplomas in three performance areas – piano, violin and conducting. In 1992 he won the Naumburg International Piano Competition and two years later was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Now in 2023 I find myself reviewing his latest album (although there have been many between that first one and this one), this time not a solo recital, but a program in which his piano playing is accompanied at various times by the voices of Roomful of Teeth and the strings of chamber ensemble A Far Cry. 


The program opens with Rounds for Piano and String Orchestra by the American composer Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981), which she describes as “inspired by the constancy, the rhythms, and duality of life.” Toward the middle of the piece, Pratt uses an EBow to modify the sound of the piano, giving it something of an archaic sound – it is almost like hearing time being looped upon itself. But don’t let my clumsy descriptions put you off; Rounds is melodic, charming, and delightful. Next up is Code by the Italian-born Paola Prestini (b. 1975), who says that she “was inspired to compose Code based on of life’s most fundamental mysteries: the relationship between two individuals.” The opening notes are bird calls intoned by Roomful of Teeth over softly muted strings, then as the piece proceeds, it becomes more like a piano concerto, but then  voices join with the piano and strings, wordless voices longingly lamenting, until we hear distant bird calls at the end. It is a fascinating musical journey.


Time Past, Time Future by the American composer Alvin Singleton (b. 1940) has a more direct, exuberant feel. As Marc Rabideau, the album’s executive producer, comments in the CD booklet, “Time Past, Time Future draws Alvin’s inspirations together in one space: stark, sustained octaves contrast angular melodies reminiscent of the bebop era, fugue-like motifs press up against super-charged repeated rhythms.” A slow section from the strings will butt up against a passage that finds Pratt pounding the keyboard; however, there are always defined chords, the music never devolves into mere noise or effect. Should you need to wind down a bit after the Singleton, the opening measures of Castillo Interior by the Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946) should prove to be the perfect calming restorative. Pratt plays this pensive music with a soft, reflective touch that will calm your mind and reduce your heart rate. The work was originally written for violin and piano, but Pratt made this arrangement for solo piano with the blessing of the composer. It is a beautiful piece, one that seems to suspend time.


Readers who are into jazz may recognize the American composer Tyshawn Sorey (b. 1980) from his role as a drummer on numerous jazz albums. The multi-talented Mr. Sorey is also proficient on piano, trombone, and assorted percussion; indeed, he is one of the leading musical figures of our time. That said, Untitled is a piece that many may find difficult to love. Roomful of Teeth vocalize chords that are mostly dissonant; not teeth-grindingly so, for the most part, but neither are they endearing. Pratt plays chords and notes on the piano to accompany them, but no discernible melody. This is not music that will drive everyone out of the room – in a way, it does have a certain fascinating quality about it – but it certainly won’t draw many folks into the room, either. 

The program closes with the title piece, Still Point by the American composer Judd Greenstein (b. 1979), who writes: “Somewhere amid writing this work, my first ‘piano concerto,’ of any kind, I realized that a new spirit had entered my process. It was the remembered spirit of the great pianist and composer McCoy Tyner, one of my musical heroes.” The piece begins with lively string chords followed by repeated chords on the piano – you can sense the momentum building. As the music progress, the voices add their energy to that of the piano and strings, making for quite a captivating sound. 

The enclosed booklet contains informative notes on all of the compositions and performers, and the sound quality is excellent. Awadagin Pratt may not be a household name, but he is a fine pianist who has assembled a group of musical collaborators and put together a musical program of contemporary music that is fresh and invigorating. Stillpoint is an album well worth seeking out by those seeking to hear something new and different.


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