Nov 30, 2023

Recent Releases No. 67 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Tractus. Arvo Pärt: Littlemore Tractus; Greater Antiphons I-VII; Cantique des degrés; Sequentia; L’abbé Agathon;These Words…; Veni creator; Vater unser. Maria Listra, soprano; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Tönu Kaljuste, conductor. ECM New Series 2800 485 9166

Recorded in Tallinn’s Methodist Church last year, Tractus extends the line of Arvo Pärt albums on the ECM label that began with Tabula rasa in 1984, the recording which first brought Pärt’s music to widespread awareness. I was in graduate school back then, working weekends as a security guard at a factory. Late one night as I drove from the main plant to check on an off-site location while listening to classical music on WOSU-FM, they played music from that album, which featured not only classical violinist Gidon Kremer but also jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. I was transfixed by Pårt’s music, becoming an immediate fan. I purchased the CD that very week and went on to acquire dozens more over the next four decades – and have never been disappointed. This latest Pärt album, Tractus, features an emphasis on works for choir and chamber orchestra, although there are also compositions for the orchestra alone as well as one for soprano and orchestra. The texts (all of which are included in the CD booklet) are all based on scriptural, liturgical, or other traditional Christian texts. Although there are passages where the music exhibits some drama, it is for the most part reflective and inward-looking, very much in keeping with the spiritual focus of the texts. The sound quality is warm, spacious, and inviting. This is an album to treasure.

Lise Davidsen: Christmas from Norway. Adolphe Adam: O Helge natt (O Holy Night in Swedish); Humperdinck: Weihnachten; Franz Xaver Gruber/Josef Mohr: Silent Night; Gustaf Nordqvist/Edvard Evers: Jul, jul, strålande julDeilig er Jorden (trad. folk tune, lyrics by Bernhard Severin Ingemann); Mitt Herte Alltid Vanker (trad. folk tune, lyrics by Hans Adolph Brorson); Julvisa (No. 4 from Viisi joululaulua Op. 1 by Sibelius, lyrics by Zachris Topelius); Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (lyrics by Martin Janus); Reger: Maria Wiegenlied (lyrics by Martin Boelitz); Bach/Gounod: Ave Maria; Hugo Wolf: Schlafendes Jesuskind (lyrics by Eduard Mörike); The First Noël(trad.); John Francis Wade: O Come All Ye Faithful; Adam: O Holy Night. Lise Davidsen, soprano; Norwegian Soloists’ Choir (conductor, Simon Arlasjö); Norwegian National Opera Children’s Choir (conductor, Edle Stray-Pedersen); Norwegian Radio Orchestra; Christian Eggen, conductor. Decca 485 4358


“Christmas is how I got into music,” explains the Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen (b. 1987), one of the foremost opera stars of our day, “we listened to all kinds of music: choral music, popular music, and the Norwegian songs I sing on this album.” She remembers Christmas services at her hometown church in Stokke: “I remember getting my first solo there, and when I was older, singing O Holy Night for the first time. I was still singing it there on Christmas Eve in my late twenties, well into my career. They were happy I kept going back but for me it was an essential part of the spirit of Christmas.” She concludes her liner booklet note by remarking, “For Scandinavians, Christmas is the white light we need in the middle of a long winter. Perhaps that’s why we embrace it. And we really do embrace it.” She opens and closes the album with O Holy Night, first in Swedish and then in English – reflecting the special place that song holds in her memory of Christmas. What sets this album apart from many other Christmas albums  -- beyond just the wondrous quality of Davidsen’s voice, that is – is the variety of music. This is not just your typical collection of popular carols. Moreover, the musical settings vary; some with orchestra, some with choir, some with children’s choir. Even if, like me, you already have a number of Christmas albums in your collection, you really ought to give this one serious consideration.

Miracle of Miracles: Music for Hanukkah. Trad., arr. Robert Applebaum: Oh Chanukah/Y'Mei Hachanukah; Trad., arr. Steve Barnett: S’vivon; Trad., arr. Mark Zuckerman: O, ir kleyne likhtelekh; Gerald Cohen: Chanukah Lights: Applebaum: Haneirot Halalu; Trad., arr.  Elliott Z. Levine): Al HaNisim; Trad., arr. Applebaum): Al Hanisim; Joshua Fishbein: Al Hanisim (For the Miracles); Daniel Tunkel: from Hallel Cantata - I. Hal’luyah! (Psalm 113)II. B’tzeit Yisrael (Psalm 114)III. Adonai Z’charanu (Psalm 115, vv. 12-18)VI. Hodu (Psalm 118, vv. 1-4); Trad., arr. Applebaum): Maoz Tzur; Levine: Lo V’Chayil; Vladimir Heyfetz (Arr. Zuckerman): Fayer, fayer; Samuel E. Goldfarb (arr. Applebaum): Funky Dreidl (I Had a Little Dreidl); Mikhl Gelbart (Arr. Zuckerman): I am a Little Dreydl (Ikh bin a kleyner Dreydl); Jonathan M. Miller: Biy’mey Mattityahu; Chaim Parchi (arr. Joshua Jacobson): Aleih Neiri; Stacy Garrop: Lo Yisa Goy. Chicago a cappella. Cedille CDR 9000022


Over the years I have accumulated a number of Christmas recordings – so many, in fact, that a few years ago I felt compelled to cull through them, decide which one I really wanted to keep, and take the rest in for trade. I took quite a few in go the store for trade, but still have more left than I will ever play over the holidays. Some of those Christmas CDs were sent to me for review over the years – but in all my years of being a reviewer (roughly 35, counting my time at both The $ensible Sound and now at Classical Candor), I was never sent one single Hanukkah CD for review until this one recently arrived in my mailbox. Miracle of miracles indeed! But receiving this disc after all that time made me stop and wonder why I had never been sent – or even really noticed, to be honest (of course, the fact that I am not Jewish is obviously a factor) any Hanukkah CDs before. Fortunately, in the liner booklet, Jonathan Miller, Chicago a cappella artistic director emeritus, at least partially answered my question: “Why, you might ask, aren’t there more albums of Hanukkah music like this? Finding the music is a big part of the challenge. It’s hard to locate works that meet all of our criteria: superb musical craftsmanship, a Hanukkah text, and a setting for a cappella mixed choir… Jewish choral music is a recent phenomenon, begun in earnest only about 200 years ago in Berlin, so there’s a simple quantity issue: we have much less repertoire to peruse than in other choral traditions. Given all of this, we are especially grateful for the composers and arrangers whose persistence and skill have given us the works found here.”

So what do we have here? Chicago a cappella is an ensemble of ten singers from among the Chicago area’s most accomplished classically trained choral singers and soloists. The group was originally founded in 1993 and has performed a wide variety of music, ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Miracle of Miracles features a collection of songs from more than 25 years of the ensemble’s performances, arranged into a single program that replays the story of Hanukkah, from celebrations of the holiday itself through to its candles, miracles, religious observances, and traditional food and games. The music and the texts include a mix of both biblical and modern Hebrew, as well as Yiddish elements (and English) intertwined with American jazz and popular styles. The vocal styles and expressions represented on this album aim to capture fully the traditions of Hanukkah across the Diaspora and Jewish history. It’s a fascinating collection. One need not be Jewish to enjoy the skill and enthusiasm that these singers bring to these remarkable songs, such as the three versions of Al Hanisim or the energetic dreydl songs, perhaps the kinds of songs that might be most likely to strike a note of familiarity with some non-Jewish listeners. The liner notes include notes and texts for all of the compositions, and the engineering by Cedille’s audio wizard Bill Maylone is excellent as always, making this a fine production in every aspect, well worth a listen regardless of your faith or lack thereof.

Nov 26, 2023

Seasons (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Max Richter: Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Philip Glass: Violin Concerto No. 2 “The American Four Seasons”. Delirium Musicum. Étienne Gara, violin and artistic director. Warner Classics 5054197401930

Delirium Musicum is a Los Angeles-based chamber orchestra of 21 musicians from nine countries including leader and founder Étienne Gara, a French-born violinist who says, “my aim in creating this group was to foster an artistic expression nourished by both diversity and the buzz of artists thirsting for uncompromising creativity and unbound musical interpretation.” There have been umpteen bazillion recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons released over the years; it is often one of the first compositions first to capture the attention of listeners who are otherwise unfamiliar with classical music. Moreover, its melodies are familiar even to many people who are otherwise unfamiliar with classical music, so widely has it been played on various media. What Delirium Musicum have chosen to give us on their first recording are two compositions by composers of our time that build upon the foundation of Vivaldi’s composition: a “recomposition” by the German-born British composer Max Richter (b. 1966) and an “American version” by the American composer Philip Glass (b. 1937). 


The Richter is a work we have looked at before, when John Puccio reviewed a recording back in 2014 (you can read John's review here) and then again in 2022 when I reviewed another recording, this time featuring the Chineke! Orchestra playing on gut strings and Richter (pictured left) playing a vintage Moog synthesizer in what amounted to a different take on period instrument performance practice (you can find that review here). The Glass, on the other hand, is a work that has not yet been reviewed in Classical Candor although there have been previous recordings of the piece. Both Seasons radiate energy and enthusiasm as the musicians of Delirium Musicum play with both passion and precision. In the Richter, the synthesizer is blended in more seamlessly than in the version the composer himself recorded with Chineke!, the end result sounding more naturally flowing – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons reimagined for the 21st century. It’s delightful! 


Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 2, subtitled “An American Four Seasons,” was originally composed in 2008 and dedicated to violinist Robert MacDuffie, who gave the work its premier. It’s an unusually constructed concerto, with four movements rather than the typical three. Yes, you’d expect four movement for “An American Four Seasons,” but no, Glass (pictured right) did not give them titles, instead he just numbered them I-IV. More unusual than having four movements are the four small solo pieces that Glass composed in lieu of a cadenza. There is a Prologue before Movement I, and then each of the final three movements is preceded by a solo violin piece that Glass calls a Song. These songs serve as interludes of reflection rather than frenzied virtuoso showpieces for the violin soloist. The four movements themselves vary in tempo and mood but share the Glass trademark of a repetitive pulse underlying the melody of the soloist above. The overall effect is compelling, none of the movements overstaying its welcome as Glass continually varies the line. Personally, I’ve never been convinced by his symphonies, but this concerto, perhaps because of the smaller forces involved, the number of varied smaller movements, not to mention the sheer energy and enthusiasm of these young musicians – at any rate, this concerto is remarkably entertaining (and, like the Richter piece, great music to enjoy while driving).

The liner notes by Gara are a bit over the top; it would have been good to have some more background on the music along with more information about the group beyond just a listing of their names. The engineering is clean and clear, although mixed in such a way to sound more immersive for headphone/earbud/car stereo listening rather than sound like musicians in a hall through loudspeakers in your listening room. Overall, though, Seasons is good, clean, recommendable twenty-first century musical fun for any season. 


Nov 22, 2023

Recent Releases No. 66 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring 

Amazônia. Villa-Lobos: Suite Floresta de Amazonas; Glass: Metamorphosis I (from Aguas da Amazonia). Camila Provenzale, soprano; Philharmonia Zürich; Simone Menezes, conductor. Alpha Classics ALPHA 990

This release pairs two works infused with the energy and exotic sounds and colors of the Amazonian jungle, brought to you courtesy of the creative imaginations of two composers of different times and hemispheres, the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and the American Philip Glass (b. 1937). Villa-Lobos wrote this music in 1958, late in his career, originally conceiving it as “a symphonic poem, a long, abstract narration that nevertheless stimulates visual echoes,” according to the CD booklet essay, which goes on the explain that the music was intended to accompany a film titled Green Mansions. Not surprisingly, the film’s producers brought in a team of Hollywood arrangers who effectively destroyed Villa-Lobos’s music. As a result, “Villa-Lobos took back his music, and made an independent concert work out of it, increasing the role of the chorus and solo voice in order to create an immense oratorio to texts by the poet Dora Vasconcelos.” What we have on this recording is not the “immense oratorio,” however; rather, conductor Simone Menezes has gone through the original score and constructed an orchestral suite in 11 movements for soprano and orchestra. It lasts about 45 minutes and is exuberant and powerful, with rich harmonies and energetic rhythms. Soprano Camilo Provenzale has a richly powerful voice with a tonal color that seems just right for this music.

In her CD booklet essay, Menezes explains that Metamorphosis I “is part of his Aguas da Amazonia, originally composed for the Brazilian group Uakti… It was orchestrated in 2017 by Charles Coleman.  Metamorphosis takes a minimalist, poetic look at the waters traversing the Amazonian forest, a journey by boat along the Amazon, marked by diverse rhythmical pulses… The rhythms become more dominant and more varied, and the tension gradually mounts up until the final sigh of relief when then destination is reached.” This is a shorter work than the Villa-Lobos, running 12:55 here and 12:35 on the Uakti recording. As those familiar with Glass  might expect, the music has an underlying pulse, a repetitive phrasing that underlies the music, much in the way that the river underlies that boat that rides upon it. Those that enjoy Glass will enjoy it, those that hate Glass will hate it. Personally, I enjoy the Uakti version much more – it simply has a more colorful sonic palette. That is not to say I am one of the Glass-haters – although neither am I a die-hard fan (except of his piano music). And in his defense, I must point out that he did not write piece this for orchestra; instead, it was orchestrated by someone else. Glass’s original version as performed by Uakti sounds much different – much more vibrant and involving.

The engineering is excellent. The booklet includes some notes on the music, biographical information about the musicians,  texts for the Villa-Lobos lyrics, and some striking B&W photographs of the Amazon. Overall, this is another of those recordings of music a bit off the beaten path but certainly well worth an audition by those looking to expand their musical field of vision.


Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13; Prince Rostislav; Symphonic Poem after Aleksey Tolstoy. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor. Vox Audiophile Edition VOX-NX-3029CD


Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44; Symphony in D minor “Youth”; The Rock, Op. 7. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor. Vox Audiophile Edition VOX-NX-3028CD


How gratifying it is to see Naxos completing its release of conductor Leonard Slatkin’s traversal of Rachmaninoff’s (that’s the currently accepted English spelling) three symphonies, which he recorded for the budget Vox label back in the mid-1970s with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. We reviewed the first of these recordings to be released back in February, 2023, a release that contained Symphony No. 2 along with the haunting Vocalise (you can read that review here). Most classical music lovers of a certain age are no doubt familiar with Vox, a budget label that produced some real gems over the years. Even though Vox was a budget label, the sound quality on some of their releases could be excellent, especially those recorded by the production team at Elite Recordings, led by engineer Marc Aubort and producer Joanna Nickrenz. There is an article at the PS Audio website discussing the fine-sounding Ravel box set Vox released in the 1970s that provides some insight into Elite’s recording process, which you can find here. The main sonic drawback back in the LP days of yore was the often substandard quality of Vox’s vinyl pressings). But in the past few years, there have been some significant advances in digital technology, allowing the good folks at Naxos (who now own the rights to the Vox treasure trove) the opportunity to give us truly elite versions of the Elite recordings.


Appearing on the back cover of these new “Vox Audiophile Edition” versions is a highlighted statement affirming that “The Elite recordings for Vox legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be among the finest sounding orchestral recordings.” For these reissues, Naxos engineers have taken those tapes from the vaults and carefully prepared these CDs for release, the end product of their labors being what they describe as “new192 kHz / 24-bit high definition transfers of the original Elite Recordings analogue master tapes.” Of course, all that work would not mean much if the performances captured by Aubort and Nickrenz were no great shakes to begin with; however, these Rachmaninoff recordings by Maestro Slatkin and the SLSO were excellent when they were released and they are excellent now. Earlier this year, we reviewed their recording of the Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2(you can read that review here). These new recordings exhibit the same virtues: confident, expressive playing from the SLSO under Slatkin’s leadership captured in transparent, dynamic sound that captures the sense of an orchestra playing in a hall. There are many excellent versions of these symphonies on the market; in fact, Slatkin himself later recorded an excellent set with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Still, these are excellent performances, excellently recorded, making them eminently recommendable for fans of these gorgeously tuneful symphonies.

Nov 19, 2023

Roger Eno: the skies, they shift like chords (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Chordal DriftTidescapeThat Which Is HiddenIllusionAbove and Below (Crepuscular); Through The Blue (St. Swithin’s)Mind The GapArms Open WideStrangely, I DreamtJapanese Rain GardenIf Only For A MomentWhere Does This Lead Us?. Roger Eno, piano, keyboards, synthesizer, organ, programming, electronics, conductor; Christian Badzura, percussion, synthesizer; Cecily Eno, vocals; Jon Goddard, noctilucent guitar; Alexander Glücksmann, clarinet, bass clarinet; Vocalconsort Berlin, vocals; Scoring Berlin, strings. Deutsche Grammophon 486 3022

We have previously reviewed a couple of releases featuring the British keyboardist and composer Roger Eno (b. 1959). The first was an album titled Mixing Colours (you can read that review here), which he recorded together with his well-known brother Brian (co-founder of the rock group Roxy Music, record producer, and noted ambient music pioneer), while the second was an album he recorded under his own name, The Turning Year (see review here). The album with Brian (b. 1948) not surprisingly has ambient music sonic leanings, but musically speaking does not sound all that far removed from what might be considered “classical” keyboard music along the lines of some of the piano pieces of, say, Pärt or Silvestrov. The music that Roger composed for The Turning Year, however, had more of a serious, classical feel to it, even though his piano had a more processed sound than would be expected in a more straightforward classical album. Like this this new release, The Turning Year also featured musical support from Christian Badzura and Scoring Berlin. 


However, the music on the skies, they shift like chords has less substance than either of those two previous albums. On the whole, the music on this latest release  is much more in the ambient vein than The Turning Year, but less musically engaging than Mixing Colours. It would be hard to imagine the majority of these tracks delivering much satisfaction to the majority of classical lovers. There are some bright spots, however. The most successful track is Japanese Rain Garden, which really is rather haunting. The closing track, Where Does This Lead Us?, with its clarinet lines and simple piano part, is also quite interesting. Alas, however, too many of the other tracks seem to have no real substance, making this a relaxing but disappointing release from an interesting artist, at least when considered as a “classical” release. Perhaps Deutsche Grammophon should consider creating a separate series, or even a separate sub-label, for music such as this, which is clearly ambient music, music that seems out of place on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The skies, they shift like chords is a perfectly fine ambient album, but surely ambient music is not what classical music lovers have come to expect from the venerable yellow label.


Nov 15, 2023

Anna Lapwood: Luna (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

James Newton Howard: Flying (from “Peter Pan”); Olivia Belli: Grain Moon; Chopin: Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2; Kristina Arakelyan: Dreamland; Dario Marianelli; Dawn (from “Pride and Prejudice”); Hans Zimmer: Stay (from “Interstellar”); Bach & Gounod: Ave Maria: Glass: Mad Rush; Ghislaine Reece-Trapp: In Paradisum; Ēriks Ešenvalds & Sara Teasdale: Stars; Kristina Arakelyan: Star Fantasy; Max Richter: On the Nature of Daylight; Florence Price: An Elf on a Moonbeam; Ludovico Einaudi: Experience; Debussy: Clair de Lune. Anna Lapwood, organ and conductor; Pembroke College Chapel Choir. Sony Classical 19658831402

I have followed the young British musician Anna Lapwood (b. 1995) on Twitter (now known as “X” since its takeover by a notorious right-wing ultrabillionaire) for quite some time. Her posts there show her to be a charming and unpretentious artist, devoted not only to her craft, but also to helping other musicians, especially young musicians, express themselves through music. She is skilled not only as an organist, but as a conductor and broadcaster. Inn 2021, for example, she appeared at the BBC Proms both as a presenter for BBC Television and as soloist in the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony. In 2016, when she was just 21, she was appointed Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, where in 2018 she established the Pembroke College Girls’ Choir for girls aged 11 to 18. She has become quite the ambassador for classical music through her outreach on social media (she’s known worldwide as “the TikTok organist”), her midnight sessions at the Royal Albert Hall, and her numerous concerts and personal appearances. In 2021, she released an organ recording for the Signum Classics label titled Images; you can find our review here. Now it is 2023, and she has a new recording out for a new label, Sony Classical, titled Luna.


While Luna featured a program consisting of established classical compositions, highlighted by a couple of larger-scale works, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin arranged for organ by Erwin Wiersinga and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes in an arrangement by Lapwood herself, the program for Luna is more varied. There are some traditional “classical” pieces for piano arranged for organ, some tunes from movies soundtracks, and among other things, even a couple of compositions not for organ, but for choir. Of the inspiration for this album, Lapwood writes, “one of the highlights of my year is the time I spend teaching music in Zambia. I love it for the people, the music, and the laughter, but I also always look forward to the first time I see the Zambian night sky again… You look up and it’s just completely full of stars, more stars than you ever thought possibly existed – bright stars, dull stars; some sparkling, some static; some glowing orbs and others dots smaller than pinpricks. With this album, I’m imagining that as we stare at the sky our minds can almost take us there, travelling through the night sky and exploring individual stars with their unique personalities and characteristics.”

Although the music is indeed varied in origin, the album seems to have an overall flow and consistency of sound – there are no abrupt shifts of mood, no jarring sonorities. That said, neither are the selections similar enough that they all sound the same as Lapwood makes her way from one to another. Highlights include the Chopin Nocturne, which is the kind of music you would not think of as a candidate for being played on the organ. Lapwood recalls learning the piece as a young piano student and then later teaching her own piano students to play. Of transcribing it for organ, she observes that “as with all transcriptions, there is an interesting decision-making process, exploring whether to try to make it as close as possible to the original, or to re-conceive it as an organ piece. In this case, I decided to go with the latter, experimenting with the huge variety of solo sounds this organ has to offer to give each section of melody its own unique character.”  Whatever her method, the end result is simply beautiful. Another highlight, the longest track on the album (6:47), is much different in style and mood from the Chopin. Stay, from the Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for the film Interstellar, is less about melody and more about raw feeling.


Lapwood supplies notes on each of the selections, and it is from these notes that we learn the interesting fact that the energetic Philip Glass piece Mad Rush, another highlight of the album, was not originally composed for the piano, as it has often been recorded (including by Glass himself), but for the organ. “Glass wrote the piece in 1978, on and for the organ of St. John the Divine, New York,” Lapwood explains. “It was written for the Dalai Llama’s first public address in North America in 1979. The organizers were expecting a large number of people so they asked Glass to write a piece of indeterminate length that could be played while the congregation was arriving.” If you are familiar with Mad Rushfrom one of its piano recordings, hearing the original organ version should give you an added appreciation for its simple elegance and energy.


The two tracks that include the voices of the Pembroke College Chapel Choir are also both quite captivating and worthy of special mention. Stars, by the Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) sets a poem by the late American poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1993). (Speaking of Ešenvalds, there is an absolutely gorgeous album of his choral music that was engineered by none other than John Atkinson of Stereophile magazine fame. Both musically and sonically it is simply superb; you can read our review here). The ethereal sounds of tuned wine glasses mixed with the sound or the organ and the choir give a celestial glow to the sound of this track, which is rife with otherworldly overtones. The other piece featuring the chorus, On the Nature of Daylight by the German-born British composer Max Richter (b. 1966), has no text, but combines their voices with the sound of the organ in a gently meditative blend that is at once calming and hopeful. Lapwood writes of this piece that “it feels particularly special to be including this piece on the album as it brings together the two sides of who I am as a musician: playing the organ but also working with the amazing choirs at Pembroke.”

The album closes with another piece for piano that Lapwood has transcribed for the organ, Debussy’s popular Clair de Lune. “As with the Chopin,” she explains, “I had to make choice: be as loyal as possible to the original, or reimagine it as an organ piece? Once again, I decided on the latter, using it as an opportunity to explore the huge variety of soft, delicate colours the organ has to offer.” As she did with the Chopin, in transcribing the Debussy, she has created something most lovely, certainly a fitting way to end an album titled Luna. It’s an album that is fresh, fun, and full of light and life – well worth a listen.

Nov 12, 2023

Tubin: Kratt - Suite from the Ballet; Bacewicz: Concerto for String Orchestra; Tubin; Music for Strings; Lutoslawski: Musique Funèbre (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Estonian Festival Orchestra; Paavo Järvi, conductor. Alpha Classics ALPHA 1006

With apologies to Alpha Classics, I still can’t help but think of this as a Telarc release; it just looks, feels, and sounds like the kind of the kind of recording that the Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi (b. 1962) used to release on the late, lamented Cleveland-based audiophile label back when he was at the helm of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2001-2011. He released a boatload of recordings with the CSO on Telarc, and most of them were excellent. Since then, he has made a number of fine recordings with other orchestras for other labels, including a number of notable recordings of symphonies by Beethoven and Bruckner for RCA. But here we have him presenting some music by some lesser-known composers: two pieces by the Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-1982) along with one each by the Polish composers Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) and Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994). 

As you can see from a glance at the cover, Tubin’s Kratt Suite is the featured composition on this album. Of the four compositions on the program, it is the only one for full orchestra; the others are for strings only. According to the liner notes, “In Estonian mythology, a kratt (goblin) is created by man but brought to life by the Devil. Influenced by evil forces, a kratt flies through the air, leaving a torrid trail of fire in his wake as he gathers riches for his master. But with that, the master sells his soul to the Devil… In 1961, Tubin composed the Suite from the ballet Kratt commissioned by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Rich in contrasts, the work contains colourful imagery from ballet music, folk tunes and influences from Stravinsky to Bartók. As in many other compositions by Tubin, the piece combines folk music with modern means of expression.” (In case you might be wondering why the commission came from a Swedish orchestra, it was because as a result of WWII, in 1944 Tubin was forced to flee Estonia for Sweden, where he wound up living for the remainder of his life.) 

Typical of a score based on a ballet, the music is episodic, shifting in tempo and mood as it moves from scene to scene. As presented on this CD, the Suite is divided into three tracks, each including scenes described and follows: I. Introduction / Peasant Dance / Dance of the Goblin (5:03); II. Long Dance / Peasant Waltz / Buck Dance (6:52); III. Interlude / Dance of the Exorcists / The Goat / The Cock / Dance of the Northern Lights (11:41). It’s a lively, colorful piece, of course infused with dance rhythms throughout. It’s not as savage as The Rite of Spring or as dramatic as The Firebird, but is more charming than either of those two more well-known ballet scores. 


Perhaps it would have been better to have programmed Kratt as the final rather than first work on the disc, because following such a colorfully scored work for full orchestra with three works for strings only has its disadvantages. That is not to say they are inferior compositions, however. Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra is said to be inspired by Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra in that it focuses on several solo parts rather than one soloist – and of course her work is for strings only, not full orchestra. It is energetic and involving, with a third movement marked Vivo that sweeps along with controlled frenzy. But then we come to the first movement of Tubin’s Music for Strings, marked Moderato, and unless we are paying careful attention to the track numbers, we might think we are listening to another movement by Bacewicz. That’s not a criticism of Tubin’s music; rather, it’s an example of what I find to be a problem with this release – that the three compositions for strings seem to blend into one another.  

In any event, Tubin’s three-movement Music for Strings, which sounds more formal, less expressive than his music from Kratt, is followed by Lutoslawski’s Musique Funèbre, which he composed in memory of Bela Bartók. According to the liner notes, “for Lutoslawski, Bartók was the only composer among his contemporaries who was able to reach the heights of Beethoven’s ideals.” It is an intense work in four movements, dark and brooding, yet possessed of an inevitable sense of motion and purpose. The final measures find the music fading into nothingness to chilling effect, ending the work – and the CD – not with a bang, but a whisper. Although it is a relatively brief piece, it packs an emotional wallop.


Although the second Tubin piece seems to get lost in the shuffle, and the program seems unbalanced with an orchestral piece followed by three string pieces, the first Tubin (Kratt Suite), the Bacewicz, and the Lutoslawski are all rewarding listening. If you are looking for some music a bit off the beaten path but still rooted in the familiar, this album is well worth an audition.

Nov 8, 2023

Recent Releases No. 65 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Sommernachtskonzert 2023. Bizet: Carmen Suite No. 1L'amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera); Lili Boulanger: D'un matin de printemps; Berlioz: Le Corsaire Overture, Op. 21, H01 Gounod: Sapho, Act III, No. 19 - Ô ma lyre immortelle; Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2, M. 57b      ; Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila, Op. 47 - Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix: Ravel: Boléro, M. 81Johann Strauss II: Wiener Blut, Op. 354. Elīna Garanča, mezzo-soprano; Vienna Philharmonic; Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Sony Classics 19658818969

The Summer Night Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic was held this year on June 8th, 2023. It is an annual open-air event that has been held since 2008, something of a complement to the famous New Year’s concerts with their much older tradition. Musically, these summer concerts are far more interesting than their winter counterparts, presenting as they typically do a more varied program than the mostly Strauss waltzes and such that are heard in January in the  gilded Musikverein. As you can see from the above program listing, the summer concert is more musically substantial, and because it is summer, the park of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna is the outdoor setting for the concert, allowing for a far larger audience to attend. 

Like the New Year’s concert, the Summer Concert is led bya top-flight conductor – Yannick Nézet-Séguin in 2023, following in the footsteps of Georges Prêtre, Daniel Barenboim, Franz Welser-Möst, Lorin Maazel, Christoph Eschenbach, Zubin Mehta, Semyon Bychkov, Gustavo Dudamel, Daniel Harding, and Andris Nelsons. Also like the New Year’s Concert, the event is televised worldwide (PBS carries it in the USA) and is made available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and – obviously – CD.  To be perfectly honest, I would think most folks would prefer to see a video version of this concert rather than merely to listen to the CD. Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s an excellent release, a well-recorded concert CD of a substantial and highly entertaining musical program, well-performed, and even the CD booklet is well-done – but the concert really is something you might want to see as well as hear if you get the chance.  

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: Original Soundtrack Recording (50th Anniversary Special Edition). The Vince Guaraldi Quintet (Vince Guaraldi, piano and voice; Seward McCain, bass; Mike Clark; drums; Tom Harrell, trumpet and brass arrangement; Chuck Bennett, trombone). Lee Mendelson Film Productions LM02302 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving premiered on CBS television  on November 23, 1973. This was the tenth Peanuts special, and earlier that summer, Vince Guaraldi had entered the studio with his fellow musicians to work on the score. Jazz fans might recognize the names of Tom Harrell, who would go on to become a legendary trumpeter on the New York scene, and Mike Clark, who toured with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band in the 1970s and who, along with Dave Garibaldi, the drummer for the Bay area group Tower of Power, became well-known for their driving, powerful style of drumming. (As a side note, Clark and Garibaldi have teamed together with the noted drummers Greg Errico [Sly and The Family Stone], Lenny White [Return to Forever], and Greg Shrieve [Santana] on a series of YouTube videos called Stick People, which features in-depth interviews with other musicians. You can see their first episode here.) 

Also recognizable to most people of a certain age should be the general style and some of the musical themes included in the program. Although not quite as endearing as the music for the A Charlie Brown Christmas special from 1965 – who can ever forget “Christmas Time Is Here?” – the Thanksgiving music has an upbeat, feel-good, jazzy energy to it that makes for some engaging listening. With Harrell’s contributions (plus a little help from an unidentified guitar player) adding extra color and pizazz to Guaraldi’s tunes, the net result is an album that swings from start to finish – and that is something for which to be thankful this holiday season.

Nov 5, 2023

Ola Gjeilo: Dreamweaver (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

The Road (text: Charles Anthony Silvestri)Autumn (text: Silvestri)The NorthDreamweaverWinter LightAgnus DeiStone RoseIngen Vinner Frem Til Den Evige Ro (trad. Norwegian hymn arr. Gjeilo). Ola Gjeilo, piano; Grace Davidson, soprano; Duncan Riddell, solo violin; Roberto Sorrentino, solo cello; The Choir of Royal Holloway; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Rupert Gough, conductor. Decca 485 4635

The last time I reviewed an album by the Norwegian composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978, pronounced “yay-lo”), the solo piano album Dawn, I mentioned how impressed I had been by a couple of his earlier choral albums but then concluded my review as follows: “This new one, however, is a disappointment, comprising as it does music that never seems to rise above the merely pleasant. For a composer with Gjeilo’s talents, merely pleasant is not nearly enough. As they say in the sports world, “c’mon man!” Perhaps it is time to for Gjeilo to get back to choral writing.” (You can see the complete review here.) Well, it looks as though that time has come, given that Dreamweaver, this new release from Decca, although not entirely choral, features a generous helping of Gjeilo’s masterly choral writing. 


There are two multi-movement choral works by Gjeilo (who, by the way, now resides in New York) on the album, which opens with his six-movement piece titled The Road. The text, which Gjeilo says is his “tribute to one of Norway’s most stunning stretches of road,” is by Charles Anthony Silvestri, who wrote the lyrics for Eric Whitacre’s beautifully moving composition The Sacred Veil, which revolves around the death of Silvestri’s wife, Julia, from cancer.  We have reviewed two remarkable recordings of that piece, one featuring The Los Angeles Master Chorale (which you can find here), the other featuring the English ensemble Voces8 (which you can find here). Gjeilo plays piano on all but one of the six  movements, Riddell weaving his solo violin lines into the opening and closing movements, with the choir and orchestra providing the bulk of the music on all but the opening track. The other major choral work is the title piece, Dreamweaver, also with text by Silvestri, a seven-movement-piece based on a Norwegian folk poem about a man who has a dream about the afterlife and then awakens to tell others what he has seen. As in The Road, there are contribution from piano and violin as well as chorus and orchestra.

The remaining pieces are varied in format and are all relatively brief. Autumn (2:51) is a choral version of a piano track from a previous Gjeilo release, an EP titled Seasons. The composer asked Silvestri to write a text that would capture the feeling of the season, and the poet responded with the text which is sung here by The Choir of The Royal Holloway under the direction of Rupert Gough. The next piece, The Road (2:49), features Gjeilo alone at the keyboard. It is pleasant, gentle, a nice palette cleanser before the title piece that follows.


Following Dreamweaver are four more brief tracks. First up is Winter Light (2:50), which features Roberto Sorrentino on cello playing a simple melody, accompanied by Gjeilo on piano. Much richer in both sound and feeling is the reverent Agnus Dei (3:36) for choir alone. Then comes Stone Rose (3:40) another pleasant but fairly straightforward tune, augmented here by wordless choir. The program closes with Ingen Vinner Frem Til Den Evige Ro (“Nobody Wins Until Eternal Rest”) (2:53)an arrangement by Gjeilo of a traditional Norwegian folk song. As Gjeilo explain, “this is an arrangement of one of my favorite folk songs, which later became part of the Norwegian hymnal. The melody is from Hallingdal, a far-reaching valley including the town of Geilo, where my family is from.” As you might expect from a folk song that was adapted for a hymn, the melody is easy to follow and sung to great effect by the choir.


Although not as powerful overall as his purely choral albums (the Chandos album Northern Lights is breathtakingly good), Dreamweaver is still a welcome effort from a composer capable of creating music of great beauty. In terms of production, the sound quality is rich and full bodied. Texts are included, but it would have been nice to have more information about the music and especially the musicians. Let’s hope that Gjeilo continues to find the creative inspiration that will lead him to compose more fine choral music in the future. But for right now, Dreamweaver is well worth a listen.


Nov 1, 2023

Recent Releases No. 64 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring  

Divergent Paths. Ravel: String Quartet in F Major; Schoenberg: String Quartet in d minor, Op. 7. Telegraph Quartet (Eric Chin, violin; Joseph Maile, violin; Pei-Ling Lin, viola; Jeremiah Shaw, cello). Azica ACD-71360 


The Telegraph Quartet, which hails from the San Francisco Bay area, has embarked upon a recording project that they are calling 20th Century Vantage Points, the aim of which “is to display the works of composers with unique visions that also speak to the zeitgeist of their time.” Divergent Paths is the first release in this new series. Since its formation, the focus of the group has been primarily upon works from the 20th century, and here they present quartets from the early years of that century by two composers who were born only one year apart (Schoenberg in 1874, in Ravel in 1875). The Telegraph Quartet found these two works by Ravel and Schoenberg, despite their contrasting qualities, make an appealing and intriguing pair. These two quartets are not what one would expect to find paired together on disc; the Ravel is almost always paired with the Debussy. Concerning this unusual pairing, the group explains: "As an ensemble, we've always been attracted to these two quartets by Ravel and Schoenberg –– at first for almost opposite reasons: the Ravel Quartet has a vibrant purity, while Schoenberg's epic Quartet No. 1 is thoroughly tumultuous and bewildering. Yet we found that both works, written within two years of one another and by composers of the same age, truly do reflect the sensuality and exploration of the human psyche that was such an important part of the dawn of the 20th century."


To listen to this album brings to mind the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” For those who might not quite remember their high school English class, that’s the one that begins, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” Now you remember, right? But unlike Frost’s traveler, the music lover coming upon Divergent Paths need not choose one path – that is, quartet – over the other. In fact, the whole point of the album is to have the listener hear both quartets – to travel both divergent paths taken by the two composers and hear where those paths led. The real dilemma, however, is how often the typical listener will actually want to travel both paths. The answer is up to the individual listener, of course, but these really are two quite different works; the Ravel (no doubt familiar to most listeners) offering color contrasts and varying moods over its four movements and the Schoenberg being densely packed, intense, seeming composed of millions of notes over its formidable 46-minute duration. As the Quartet characterizes it, “Schoenberg’s Op. 7 is like a Wagner opera for string quartet.” As beautifully performed and recorded as it might here, it’s still a challenging path for all but the most intrepid musical traveler. Kudos to the Telegraph Quartet for mastering its intricacies and making this performance available, and kudos to Azica for an attractive package that includes informative liner notes. 

Thunder. Stephan Micus: A Song for ThorA Song for RaijinA Song for ArmaziA Song for ShangoA Song for VajrapaniA Song for LeigongA Song for ZeusA Song for IshkurA Song for Perun. Stephan Micus, voices, frame drums, dung chen, Burmese temple bells, Himalyan horse bells, ki un ki, bass zither, storm drums, bowed sinding, kyeezee, shakuhchi, sarangi, nyckelharpa, kauka, sapeh, nohkan. ECM 2757


German-born Stephan Micus (b. 1953) is a unique musician and composer. Since the mid-1970s he has recorded nearly 30 albums, and on all but one of those recordings he played every instrument. He collects and studies instruments from all around the world and creates his own musical journeys with them. On this, his 25th solo album for ECM, its sound is dominated by the four-meter long Tibetan dung chen trumpet, an instrument he has recently learned and is using for the first time. It was the thunderous sound of this instrument that led to the album’s name and its nine tracks celebrating deities around the world. “I dedicate this music to the big family of thundergods around the world, humbly hoping that - when they hear it - their destructive powers will be somehow pacified,” Micus declares. Don’t let the quasi-New Age spiritual overtones of those words dissuade you; the music’s the thing, and the music has substance in abundance. This is not some aging hippie blowing mindless melodies on a wood flute.    


The opening cut, A Song for Thor, truly does evoke the thunderous power of a Norse god. As the album proceeds, it is fascinating to hear the sounds of the instruments – all played by Micus, through the miracle of overdubbing – instruments from Tibet, India, Burma, Borneo, Siberia, Japan, South America, Gambia, Namibia, Sweden, and Bavaria. I’ve listened to a number of Micus’s albums over the years. Some, to be sure, have sounded too New-Agey to leave much of a lasting impression; however, Thunder delivers the goods, sounding like powerful chamber music with a world music twist. Engineered to ECM’s usual high standard, it’s quite an impressive show as well.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa