Dec 31, 2023

BH’s Favorite Recordings of 2023

by Bill Heck

I’ve managed to avoid doing a “favorite recordings” list for the past couple of years, but our persuasive editor, KN, convinced me that I should do so this time around. You know what? It turned out to be fun to look back through 2023 reviews on Classical Candor, not just my own but those of my colleagues, KN and RR, as well. (But JJP, when will we be treated to another review from you? It’s been too long!)

Before proceeding, though, I should clarify how my “favorites” made the list. These are not to be considered somehow “the best” of the year; instead, they are simply a few recordings that I found both interesting and well done, ones that I found myself returning to long after their reviews appeared in Classical Candor. Nor does the ordering of the list reflect some sort of “quality” ranking; it’s simply in chronological order by review date.

Albeniz: Iberia. Nelson Goerner. Alpha Classics 829.  Iberia is one of those works in which one can be lost, moving through a kaleidoscopic world of themes and emotions. Goerner is by turns playful and serious, light and dark, swift and slow, somber and feverish, reflecting the music’s moods in a performance that rewards repeated hearings. Alpha’s outstanding sound compliments and completes the picture. By the way, technically this recording is a 2022 release, but I didn’t get around to publishing a review until January of this year, so it makes the list anyway.



Arnold: Concerto No. 1 for Clarinet and Strings Op. 20; etc. Chandos CHAN 20152. This disk of multiple works by Malcolm Arnold (I named only the Clarinet Concerto in the headline above) was reviewed by our colleague, Ryan Ross, but I’m including it here because it meets the criteria of interest and excellence. Frankly, I was only vaguely familiar with the music of Malcolm Arnold; this disk was an excellent introduction to a composer that I need to, and am getting to, know better. If you, too, are unfamiliar with Arnold’s work, read Ryan’s review of this disk here and go find a copy.

Beethoven: A Beethoven Odyssey: Volume 7 (Piano Sonatas Nos. 30, 31, and 32). James Brawn, piano. MSR Classics MS 1471. I reviewed both volumes 7 and 8 of Brawn’s A Beethoven Odyssey series this year, but I should call your attention to the entire series; volume 1 – 8 are currently available and the release of the final volume, number 9, is coming up in 2024. Our colleague John Puccio reviewed several of the earlier volumes in the series, and he and I are of one mind in finding Brawn’s playing consistently so “right”, so “of course that’s the way it should be”. That the MSR engineers capture the sound of the Steinway so well is the proverbial icing on the cake.


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. An extraordinarily touching memorial to a lost friend, the late pianist Lars Vogt. But don’t let the “in memoriam” aspect lower your expectations: the performance of the Brahms Double Concerto is a fine one, passionate but technically sound, while the Viotti Concerto is, if not music of the first rank, well worth hearing. And if the short Dvorak piece from Silent Woods doesn’t provoke a lump in your throat, you may need an emotion transplant.


Hyperion catalog on streaming services. No, this is not an individual recording. But for those of us who rely heavily on streaming, the availability of the Hyperion catalog on major streaming services is a cause for celebration. Note that Hyperion started releasing their existing catalog for streaming in batches starting in September; if your favorite title is not yet available, it will be soon. 2023 was a good year!

There we are. I didn’t set out to confine myself to composers whose names started with one of the first two letters of the alphabet, so I’ll try for more variety in 2024. Meanwhile, I hope that your listening is full of highlights every day.

Dec 27, 2023

Phantasy in Blue (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Tchaikovsky (arr. Stefan Malzew): Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33; Vivaldi (arr. Itai Sobol): Cello Concerto in A minor, RV418;  de Falla (arr, Sebastian Gottschick): Siete canciones populares españolas ("Seven Spanish Folksongs"); Shostakovich (arr. Levon Atovmian): Prelude from the Gadfly, Op. 97Elegy from The Human Comedy, Op. 37; Shostakovich (arr.  Louis-Noël Fontaine): Waltz No. 2 from Suite for Variety Orchestra; Gershwin (arr. Malzew): Phantasy in Blue (after Rhapsody in Blue). Alban Gerhardt, cello; Alliage Quintett (Daniel Gauthier, soprano saxophone; Miguel Vallés Mateu, alto saxophone; Simon Hanrath, tenor saxophone; Sebastian Pottmeier, baritone saxophone; Jang Eun Bae, piano). Hyperion CDA68419


Having been quite favorably impressed by a recording of the two Shostakovich cello concertos that the German cellist Alban Gerhardt (b. 1969) recorded for Hyperion three years ago (you can see that review here), plus being intrigued by the both the eclectic program and the unusual combination of instruments Gerhardt had assembled (cello and saxophone quartet plus piano playing music ranging from Vivaldi through Shostakovich to Rhapsody in Blue – what the heck?!), this was a CD to which I simply had to give a listen. It looked as though it would be a memorable listening experience one way or the other – either a dud or a delight. As Gerhardt and the Alliage Quintett began their musical journey through Tchaikovsky’s sprightly Variations on a Rococo Theme, it soon became clear that this CD would indeed prove to be a delightful musical listening experience, and so it came to pass. 


Gerhardt has cast a wide net across both time and space for his selections, the prize catch being the Gershwin. It is worth the price of admission for this recording just to hear him emulate the opening clarinet smear of Rhapsody in Blue on his cello. Whoa! Now, that’s a sound guaranteed to bring a smile to the sound of even the most jaded music lover, and the rest of the arrangement works surprisingly well, bringing this release to a rousing, triumphant conclusion.


Dec 24, 2023

Our Favorite Christmas Recordings (CD Reviews)

One of the most delightful dimensions of Christmas is the music that attends the season. From the most devotional church music to familiar carols to popular Christmas songs, music fills the air at this time of the year. At this most wonderful time of the year, we at Classical Candor thought it might be fun to share a few of our favorite Christmas recordings. 


Karl Nehring’s Christmas Favorites:


Essential Carols: The Very Best of King’s College Choir, Cambridge. (CD1) Hark! the Herald Angels SingThe First NowellWhile Shepherds WatchedI Saw Three Ships; Ding Dong! Merrily on High; King Jesus Has a GardenIn Dulci JubiloUnto Us Is Born a SonO Come, All Ye FaithfulAway in a MangerO Little Town of BethlehemThe Holly and the IvyGod Rest Ye Merry, GentlemenSee Amid the Winter's SnowPast Three O' ClockInvitatoryAdam Lay YboundenGabriel's Message; (CD2) Once in Royal David's CitySussex CarolRockingRejoice and Be MerryThe Cherry Tree CarolThe Three KingsAs with Gladness Men of OldA Great and Mighty WonderThe Infant King;BalulalowThe Crown of RosesChrist Was Born on Christmas DayBlessed Be That Maid MaryLute-Book LullabyMyn LykingPersonent HodieIn the Bleak Mid-WinterCoventry CarolShepherds in the Field AbidingTorchesFantasia on Christmas Carols. Simon Preston, Andrew Davis. organ; The Choir of King’s College; David Willcocks, conductor. Decca B0005302-02. This is the straight stuff, traditional carols sung by a young British choir in a beautiful chapel. As you listen, you can almost close your eyes and imagine yourself at a Christmas Eve candlelight service. 


A Mormon Tabernacle Choir ChristmasJoy to the WorldCarol of the BellsI Wonder As I WanderWhence Is That Goodly Fragrance?Masters in This HallThe First NoelHow Far Is It to Bethlehem?Pat-A-PanWhat Shall We Give to the Babe in the Manger?One December Bright and ClearFantasy on 'What Child Is This?Hark! the Herald Angels SingJesus, Jesus, Rest Your HeadAngels from the Realms of GlorySilent Night. Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Orchestra at Temple Square; Craig Jessop, conductor. Telarc DSD CD-80552. From this side of the pond, another world-class choir serves up a program of traditional Christmas music. Here we have the 350-voice strong Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now known as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square) with orchestral accompaniment recorded in glorious sound quality by the engineering team at Telarc. Hard to find but worth the search.


Christmas RhapsodyO Come All Ye Faithful / Angels We Have Heard on High / Hark! The Herald Angels SingI'll Be Home for Christmas / "Going Home" (New World Symphony)Santa Claus Is Coming to Town / Dance of the Sugar Plum FairyThe Christmas SongRudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer / Let It Snow; Ave MariaO Come O Come Emanuel / O Little Town of Bethlehem / The First Noel; Winter Wonderland / Jingle BellsSilent Night / O Holy NightSweet Little Jesus Boy / Away in a Manger / What Child Is This?Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring / Amazing GraceHave Yourself a Merry Little ChristmasWhite Christmas. John Bayless, piano. Koch KOC-CD-9610. This is an album that brings a joyous, upbeat holiday spirit into your home. The medleys include carols along with more popular music associated with the holidays. I still remember receiving the CD for review years ago and thinking I was going to hate it – I thought it was going to be superficial, lightweight, New Age fluff. I played it only out of a sense of duty and was delighted – and have played it every year since. It’s a keeper.


Joyous Day! Songs of Christmas Arranged by Barlow BradfordAngels We Have Heard on HighInfant Holy, Infant LowlySussex CarolStill, Still, StillI Wonder As I WanderPat-a-PanStar CandlesJesus, Jesus Rest Your HeadBring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella; Suo GanCarol of the BellsSilent Night. Utah Chamber Artists; Barlow Bradford, artistic director. Clarion CLR928CD. Familiar Christmas music from an unfamiliar ensemble, but my goodness, in many ways this deftly arranged and expertly recorded release is the most fully satisfying Christmas recording I have ever heard. Perhaps it is because of the smaller forces involved, but somehow the balance of sound seems just right, perfectly appropriate for the music. Whatever the reason, this CD is a hidden gem of a Christmas recording!


Ki ho’alu Christmas: Hawaiian Slack Key GuitarDo You Hear What I Hear?C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S (The Meaning of Christmas)Christmas Carol WaltzMele KalikimakaAway in a MangerWinter WonderlandChristmas MemoriesIt Came Upon a Midnight ClearLittle Drummer BoyFireside Ki ho’aluMedley: Kanaka Waiwai / Jesu Mo Ke Kahuhipa; Po La’i E (Silent Night)Silent Night. Keola Beamer, guitars; Ledward Kaapana, guitar, autoharp; Moses Kahumoku, guitar; Cyril Pahinui, 12-string guitar. voice; James “Bla” Pahinui, guitar; Barney Isaacs, acoustic steel guitar; George Kuo, guitar; Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, 12-string guitar, voice; Ozzie Kotani, guitar; George Kahumoku, 12-string guitar; Cindy Combs, guitar; Joanie Komatsu, guitar, voice; Ruth Komatsu, recorder. Dancing Cat Records 090222-38037-2. For those unfamiliar with slack key guitar, here is a quick explanation courtesy of the good folks at Wikipedia: “slack-key guitar (from Hawaiian kī hōʻalu, which means "loosen the [tuning] key") is a fingerstyle genre of guitar music that originated in Hawaii. Nearly all slack key requires retuning the guitar strings from standard (EADGBE), and this usually (but not always) means lowering or "slacking" several strings. The result will most often be an open major chord, although it can also be a major-seventh chord, a sixth, or (rarely) a minor.” Hearing this Christmas music played in these unusual tunings is an ear- and mind-opening experience that will bring a smile to all but the most hidebound mainlander. (To be perfectly honest, though, my very favorite CD in this style is Slack Key Christmas on the Windham Hill label, but sadly enough, it is now out of print and difficult to track down.)


We Three Kings - The Roches. Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly LightFor Unto Us A Child Is BornAngels We Have Heard On HighDeck The HallsChristmas Passing ThroughSleigh RideAway in a MangerHere We Come a CarollingThe Little Drummer BoyThe Holly & The IvyFrosty The SnowmanDo You Hear What I Hear?; We Three KingsStar Of WonderWinter WonderlandJoy To The WorldO Little Town Of BethlehemGood King WenceslasJingle BellsThe First NoelGod Rest Ye Merry GentlemenIt Came Upon A Midnight ClearAdeste FidelesSilver Bells. Maggie Roche, vocals, keyboards; Terre Roche, vocals, guitars, piano; Suzzy Roche, vocals, guitars, keyboards; Vince Cherico, drums and drum programming, percussion; Paul Ossola, bass guitar, upright bass; Victor Lesser, Saxophones. MCA Records / Paradox Records MCAD -10020. This is one of those albums that you will either love or hate. Or you might love it on Monday, hate it on Tuesday, put it away for a few days, but on the Saturday before Christmas, pull it out and love it again. The three sisters harmonize, weave in and out in counterpoint, have some fun, but also show reverence when reverence is called for. Quirky? Yes. But full of the spirit of Christmas. It will make you smile and enjoy the holiday season.

A Charlie Brown Christmas
 (Deluxe Edition). TannenbaumWhat Child Is ThisMy Little DrumLinus & LucyChristmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal)SkatingHark, The Herald Angels SingChristmas Is ComingFür EliseThe Christmas SongTannenbaum (Take 2/recorded September 21, 1965);Tannenbaum (Take 3/recorded September 21, 1965)Greensleeves (Take 6/recorded October 28, 1965)Linus And Lucy (Take 1/recorded September 17, 1965)Christmas Time Is Here (Take 1/recorded September 17, 1965);Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal) (Rehearsal/recording Date Unknown)Christmas Time Is Here (Take 4/recording Date Unknown)Skating (Take 1/recorded September 22, 1965)Jingle Bells (Takes 1-4/recorded September 21, 1965)Christmas Is Coming (Take 3/recorded September 17, 1965)Christmas Is Coming (Take 3/recorded September 21, 1965)Für Elise (Takes 1-2/recording Date Unknown)The Christmas Song (Take 8/recorded October 28, 1965). Ince Guaraldi Trio. Craft Recordings. 
This is the latest incarnation of a true Christmas classic. According to the Craft website,” this deluxe CD release of A Charlie Brown Christmas features a brand-new Stereo Mix of the classic album remastered from the original three-track and two-track sources, as well as thirteen unreleased outtakes, highlights taken from five sessions of recording material. Amazing in their own right these unheard versions give insight into how this iconic score took shape. The package also features new liner notes from Peanuts historian, Derrick Bang.” For many homes, including mine, Christmas is just not Christmas without frequent playing of this soundtrack, a true Christmas classic.

Bill Heck's Christmas Favorites

What would the holiday season be without Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet? Surely even Ebenezer Scrooge had a soft spot for this lovely, imaginative music and, at least for many of us if not for poor Ebeneezer, the warm memories that it can evoke.

Antal Dorati/London Symphony Orchestra. Mercury Living Presence 475 6623. If we can say that any recording of the complete ballet is the “standard”, this might be it. It is well-played, with tempos that are mostly quick but rarely rushed. The recording, one of the Mercury Living Presence series, is superb for its time and still holds up well. Some may with for a little more atmosphere, both artistically and sonically, but you can hardly go wrong with this as your baseline for how the Nutcracker should be done. 

Seiji Ozawa/Boston Symphony Orchestra. DG 00289 477 5153. Another fine option for the complete ballet, and it’s packaged with Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty in the multi-CD set. This performance seems to have a little more of that aforementioned “atmosphere”, with slightly freer tempi and slightly more sonic clarity to bring out all the marvelous inner parts. I really must give special mention to the Waltz of the Flowers, which is simply stunning; how can one not want to dance along? 


Stewart Goodyear (piano arrangement) Steinway STNS 30040. Goodyear’s is not the only piano arrangement of the ballet out there, but is arguably the best, and the arranger plays it well indeed. If, when hearing this, you did not know that it was a transcription of an orchestral piece, you might easily assume that it was originally written for the keyboard. It’s a given that the Steinway engineers do a good job of capturing the sound of – yes – a Steinway.


LA Guitar Quartet: Nutcracker Suite Delos DE 3132. Not the complete ballet, of course, but it’s amazing how well Tchaikovsky’s music can be adapted beyond its original orchestral context. Four guitars allow real exploration of the harmonies that were in the orchestral version, but with completely different balances, each line winding its way through a unified whole. The playing is first rate, as is the Delos audiophile-grade sound.

Nutcracker Suite as arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn; played by the Harmonie Ensemble of New York, conducted by Steve Richmond. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907493. Seventeen tracks of syncopated enjoyment. Ellington and Strayhorn work their magic in (re)arranging the originals into a jazzy suite, here played by an excellent big band. (Alas, it appears that the Harmonie Ensemble is now defunct.) Just the thing to cap the holidays and send us off in rousing style!

Bryan Geyer's Christmas Favorites

I'm unable to pick any particular recording, but these two modern era Christmas songs have always seemed more significant than the rest: 

"The Christmas Song" became a Nat King Cole classic and any of his various recordings would be appropriate.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was subject to excessive revision, generally applied to "jolly up" the basic WWII thematic setting. I personally prefer the original, or versions close to it—maybe because I clearly remember those WWII days—but it's catchy stuff regardless of the score.

Dec 20, 2023

Chamber Works by Robert Müller-Hartmann (CD Review)

by Ryan Ross

Robert Müller-Hartmann: String Quartet No. 2Three Intermezzi and ScherzoTwo Pieces for Cello and PianoViolin Sonata. ARC Ensemble. Chandos CHAN 20294.

Prior to this disc, almost my only awareness of Robert Müller-Hartmann was his friendship and collaboration with English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. I knew that the former was also a composer, and had interrupted his career to flee Hitler’s Reich along with other Jewish German refugees. But I never had the opportunity to hear any of his music until now. Vaughan Williams much respected his younger contemporary and even went to hear his music performed on multiple occasions. One wonders what he thought, because if the works offered on this splendid recording are any indication, Müller-Hartmann deserves to be remembered as more than the great Englishman’s trusted assistant.


I am conscious of starting to sound like a broken record when it comes to Chandos’s tremendous advocacy for neglected composers, but we do in fact have another winner here. Part of a series titled “Music in Exile” put on by the ARC Ensemble (the featured performers) and its director, Simon Wynberg (the author of its fine liner notes), this recording treats the listener to five separate compositions (four for chamber ensembles and one for solo piano) by Müller-Hartmann. Far from being the sturdy but bland fare by “minor” composers one often encounters, this music has a real stamp of personality. No, it won’t upset our understanding of how twentieth-century music developed, nor perhaps force its main characters to make room for one more. But if a mark of music worth repeated hearings is its memorability and capacity to speak directly to the listener, these selections are firmly recommendable.


Müller-Hartmann’s strongest gift is as a melodist. His themes are not only beautiful, but they’re also full of idiosyncratic turns of phrase that help the listener remember them as something distinctive. This is particularly true of my favorite work on the disc, the Sonata for Violin and Piano, which is very much conceived thematically but contains enough contrast and drama to not overburden his tunes. While the String Quartet lacks some of the Violin Sonata’s grace and charm, it brings a sophistication of craft that one can tell came from accrued experience in the decade or more that separated these works. It is a serious and substantial composition – one that would hold its own programmed for a chamber concert alongside more familiar works in the genre.


The rest of the disc’s music is essentially collections of miniatures. This includes the brief Sonata for Two Violins, with none of its four movements lingering past a few minutes or so. To my ear, the structures owe more to repetition, contrast, and elision than to rigorous “development” in the traditional sense. But it is none the worse for that! Like the Second String Quartet, it is a fully mature composition with a touch of angularity leavening sweeter lyricism. The third movement in particular is an earworm that contrasts a driving figure with a slower, more mysterious counter-idea. I would love to hear this work in live performance some time, where I think it would be extremely effective. The remaining pieces are simply lovely miniatures that I hope will be performed more as a result of this recording.


I am sometimes critical of miniaturist composers who try, with only intermittent success at best, to work in larger forms. Even “great” miniaturist composers such as Robert Schumann and Edvard Grieg (whose music came to mind multiple times while listening to Müller-Hartmann’s) sometimes come in for criticism regarding certain “big genre” compositions. While I do consider Müller-Hartmann to be a miniaturist at his core, he is more than capable in the larger works sampled here. I understand that there are other such compositions in his catalogue, and I hope that those still unrecorded will be available in physical and streaming mediums soon. Robert Müller-Hartmann was a composer with a real voice. A wonderful discovery awaits anyone willing to take a chance on this recording.

Dec 17, 2023

KN's Favorite Recordings of 2023

by Karl Nehring

In looking back over the releases that I reviewed during this past year, it strikes me that there were fewer of the symphonic works that I usually enjoy. I’m not sure whether that is the result of fewer symphony recordings being released or my lack of enthusiasm for reviewing yet another recording of Mahler or Bruckner (I dread 2024, Bruckner’s bicentennial year, which will no doubt herald no end of both rereleases and new recordings of his symphonies – of every edition and her sister by all manner of conductors and orchestras). Whatever the reason, my list of favorites strikes me as a bit unusual this year; however, there’s some darn good music to be found in this list of a dozen of my favorite recordings from 2023, which I present to you just in time for your last-minute holiday shopping. 

Beethoven: The Late Quartets. Calidore String Quartet. Signum Classics SIGCD733. It is certainly natural to be skeptical when encountering yet another boxed set of the late Beethoven quartets; however, this is a fine set indeed, one worthy in both musical and sonic terms to be a first choice for someone looking to acquire a set of these incomparable string quartets. Sonically, in fact, this may well be the finest set of all the many I have ever heard. The natural warmth of the recorded string tone combined with the realistic sense of space makes it especially easy to be drawn into the fascinating music. To be skeptical means to be inclined to look -- or in this case, listen -- quite closely. Those who listen closely to this set will be well rewarded both musically and sonically. 


Yussef Dayes: Black Classical Music.  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. “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… 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. This is optimistic music that can’t help but lift your spirits. Even if you don’t consider yourself a jazz fan, you just might want to give Black Classical Music a listen.

Fauré: Nocturnes and Barcarolles. Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano. Hyperion CDA 68331/2. The French composer Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) is a composer who, although relatively well known to most classical music lovers, nevertheless seems to be under-appreciated. Perhaps he needed to write some symphonies; whatever the reason, he certainly was a marvelous composer who created music of great beauty and refinement. The piano music of Fauré is certainly far less frequently recorded than that of Beethoven, Chopin, or some of the other usual suspects, so I think we can applaud Hamelin and Hyperion for bringing us such a fine collection. As we have come to expect from Hyperion, everything about this release is first class. The cover features some beautiful art by Monet, the booklet presents useful information about every individual track on the two CDs as well as some biographical information about the artists, and the engineering is excellent. For those who enjoy piano music, this new release is one that you really ought to hear, especially if you have not yet experienced the magical music of that underappreciated master, Gabriel Fauré.   


Nitai Hershkovits: Call on the Old Wise. Nitai Hershkovits, piano. ECM 2779 551 5448

The music on Call on the Old Wise has for the most part a low-key, almost conversational feel to it. There is no banging on the keys, no breakneck tempi, no dissonant tone clusters. That said, the improvisatory nature of much of the music is always evident, but comes across to the listener more as directed and creative, a balanced combination of preparation and inspiration. Hershkovits draws from influences, ranging from his work in jazz contexts to his background in classical music. From track to track, the music varies, but never loses its listenable, playful, charming, quality. Hershkovits credits inspirations as seemingly disparate as the late jazz piano jazz legend Chick Corea and Russian composers Rachmaninoff and Scriabin as prominent influences. With no liner notes but beautiful ECM sound, Call on the Old Wise is an unexpected jewel of a piano recording.


Stephan Micus: Thunder. ECM 2757. German-born Stephan Micus (b. 1953) is a unique musician and composer who 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. On Thunder, the 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 globe. The opening cut, A Song for Thor, evokes 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. Thunder sounds like powerful chamber music with a world music twist. Engineered to ECM’s usual high standard, it’s quite an impressive show as well.


Federico Mompou: Música callada (“Silent Music”): Book One [1959]; Book Two [1962]; Book Three [1962]; Book Four [1967]. Stephen Hough, piano. Hyperion CDA68362. In his fascinating collection of essays titled Rough Ideas (reviewed here), the British pianist Sir Stephen Hough wrote of the Spanish composer Federico Mompou (1893-1967): “The music of Federico Mompou is the music of evaporation. The printed page seems to have faded, as if the bar lines, time signatures, key signatures, and even the notes themselves have disappeared over a timeless number of years. There is no development of material, little counterpoint, no drama nor climaxes to speak of; and this simplicity of expression – elusive, evasive and shy – is strangely disarming. There is nowhere for the sophisticate to hide with Mompou. We are in a glasshouse, and the resulting transparency is unnerving, for it creates a reflection in which our face and soul can be seen.” Hough also observed that of his musical education, “I knew Mompou before I knew Mozart,” which perhaps give him something of a different perspective on the composer’s output. Some listeners will find the lack of hummable melodies a minus, while, others will find themselves entranced by the unique musical atmosphere evoked by Mompou’s writing and Hough’s performance, which has been captured in full, rich sound by the Hyperion engineering team. The customary top-quality liner notes and cover art that we have come to expect from Hyperion are the frosting on the cake.


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. This is one of the final recordings made by the late German pianist Lars Vogt (1970-2022). The CD booklet includes an interview with the recording producer Christophe Franke, a good friend of Vogt’s who points out that at the time Vogt recorded this 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. 


Arvo Pärt: Tractus.  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.. This latest Pärt album 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 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.

Bobo Stenson Trio: Sphere. ECM 2775 487 3808. The Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson (b. 1944) is probably unfamiliar to most classical music fans, but perhaps this latest album, which features a generous dollop of music by classical composers, will pique some interest, at least among classical fans who also have an interest in other forms of music – as I hope most who follow this blog do. On this new release, his trio open and close the album with a piece by the Swedish composer Per Nørgård (b. 1932) titled You Shall Plant a Tree. The trio’s bassist, Anders Jormin, contributes a couple of pieces, one of them (Unquestioned Answer – Charles Ives in Memoriam) inspired by Charles Ives, with a similar feeling of ambiguity; the other (Kingdom of Coldness) tending toward a more familiar jazz sound. Even more of a familiar type of jazz tune is Jung-Hee Woo’s The Red Flower, which swings gently along. Sven-Erik Bäck (1919-1994) was a Swedish classical composer. His Communion Psalm is an expressive piece that communicates a sense of reverence and ritual. From the late Norwegian pianist and composer Alfred Janson (1937-2019) comes Ky and Beautiful Madame Ky, restless and percussive. And then there is the Sibelius Valsette, his brief original piece for solo piano here stretched out by the trio more than five times its original length, improvised, given a whole new meaning and feeling. Beautiful recorded sound making this a highly recommendable release for both jazz and classical fans.

Veljo Tormis: Reminiscentiae.  Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor. ECM New Series ECM 2783. Partly because the album covers such a long period of time, partly because Kaljuste has taken some music originally written for choir and arranged it for orchestra, and partly because Tormis wrote music of varying styles and moods, there is an impressive variety of music to be found in this collection. Kaljuste and his players have an intimate connection with Tormis’s sound world; in fact, the oldest composition on the album, the opening The Tower Bell in My Village, resulted from a 1978 commission from Kaljuste. “I went to his door holding in my hands the text by Fernando Pessoa and asked him to create a piece for a concert tour with my choir,” Kaljuste writes. “This album reflects upon our collaboration over the years. It is the first album that I have recorded since Veljo Tormis passed away.” This album is a labor of love, a lovingly performed and beautifully recorded labor of love.

Whitacre: Home. Voces8; Emma Denton, cello; Christopher Glenn, piano; Eric Whitacre, conductor. Decca 483 3970. The album begins with four brief pieces, beginning with Go, Lovely Rose, Whitacre’s first composition, followed by one of his most frequently performed pieces, The Seal Lullaby. The next song, Sing Gently, was composed during COVID-19 lockdown specially for Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, made up of more than 17,500 singers from 124 different countries. The fourth work on the album is Whitacre’s most recent composition, All Seems Beautiful to Me, based on a poem by Walt Whitman (from Song of the Open Road) celebrating the human spirit’s capacity for generosity and growth. It was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band and here receives its world premiere recording. We then arrive at the album’s main attraction, The Sacred Veil, which Whitacre composed along with his friend and frequent collaborator Charles Anthony Silvestri, who wrote most of the lyrics, which revolve around the death from cancer of his late wife, Julia Lawrence Silvestri (the remainder of the lyrics were written by Whitacre and Ms. Silvestri before her passing). As you might surmise from those circumstances, The Sacred Veil is an intensely personal, deeply moving composition. The Sacred Veil was originally conceived for a larger choir. In fact, the first recording of it, which Whitacre himself conducted (reviewed here), featured the larger forces of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. So what we have here in this Decca release is in essence a chamber version of the work. That is not to diminish its value, for VOCES8 does a beautiful job. In all honesty, I find The Sacred Veil to be one of the most moving musical works of the 21st century, and I highly recommend this new recording. 

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 7 (“Sinfonia Antartica”); Symphony No. 9 in E minor. Elizabeth Watts, soprano, BBC Symphony Chorus; BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins, conductor. Hyperion CDA68405. Many classical music fans, or at least those conversant with the music of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, know that his Symphony No. 7 (“Sinfonia Antartica”) grew out of music that he had composed for the film Scott of the Antarctic, which portrayed the ill-fated South Pole expedition of Royal Navy officer Captain Robert Scott. Intrigued by the story, RVW decided to write a symphony based upon some of the themes from the music he had composed for the film. It is a grand and stirring composition full of spectacular sounds, featuring a large orchestra augmented by an organ, a wordless choir, a wordless soprano, gong, bells, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, celesta, and if that’s not enough to test your stereo system, a wind machine (which on this recording is replaced by the recorded sounds of actual wind – a first in my experience). The engineering team on  this Hyperion release has met the challenge of capturing the power of the assembled forces. RVW’s Symphony No. 9 seems to be greatly underappreciated, which is a shame, for it is a marvelous work. Brabbins and his BBC forces make a strong case for this final symphony, in a performance that stands right up there with previous favorites such as Manze and Slatkin. If you are one of those casual RVW fans who might have overlooked his Symphony No. 9, this new Hyperion recording would be an excellent opportunity for you to make your acquaintance with something quite special indeed.

Dec 13, 2023

Is It Time for New Classic Recordings?

by Bill Heck

All right, I admit it, I confess: I'm spoiled by modern digital recordings by amazing musicians.

Many readers of Classical Candor have been around long enough to know about the "classic" recordings of classical music, the ones on any number of "recommended performances" lists. Whose collection of recordings would be complete without, say, the Reiner / Chicago recording of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, the Kleiber / Vienna Beethoven 5 and 7 pairing, or Beecham’s conducting of anything by Delius?

I'm speaking here of stereo recordings, which puts us after the mid-1950s or so. There are specialists, as well as the more curious among us, who want to hear Toscanini's Beethoven symphony cycle, or Schnabel's set of the piano concertos, recordings of Rachmaninoff playing his own works: the list goes on and on, and for those folks, even bad recordings are better than no recordings at all. But for most of us most of the time, those recorded sounds are just too ancient: not only monophonic, but compressed, distorted, with too much tape hiss to be passable. But hey, those RCAs from the '50s, those Mercury Living Presence disks, the remasterings and repressings of analog recordings: sure, bring them on!

Vladimir Horowitz
But lately I'm noticing more and more that…I'm spoiled. That analog sound that seemed so wonderful in the 1970s, maybe even into the 2000's, is starting to wear thin. When I listen to digital recordings from the last couple of decades through to the present, I notice that there are things missing: noise and hiss, the tiny speed variations of analog tape that let the pitch waver*, dynamic compression and even distortion, and so on. Oh sure, there are a few analog recordings that are incredibly good, but they generally don't sound quite as crystal clear, with quite the "silent silences" or quite the deep bass impact that I find in good digital recordings. Naturally, those of us who grew up with analog recordings took a while to get used to the absence of background hiss, which can sound disconcerting at first, or the impossibly low distortion, which can sound less lively and dynamic until you get used to it. But once your ears adjust to the super clean sound of the best digital, those old analog recordings start to sound rather grungy.

(Time for a brief digression: the discussion so far is sure to attract disputation – or should I say vilification? – from those convinced that analog recordings, despite their obvious restrictions, somehow sound "better" than any digital ones possibly could. I can't think of anything to say that would change the minds of those who take that position. The technical data apparently won't, nor will the fact that most mainstream performance available today in “analog” format have been digitized somewhere along the way anyway. We can just agree to disagree and move on.)

Now all this would be moot if, for much music, we simply had no substitutes for those classic performances of yesteryear. But as new recordings of huge parts of the classical repertoire pile up, many of them made by phenomenally talented musicians, simple statistics suggests that sooner or later there will be recordings that are every bit as wonderful and satisfying as those gems from the past. I yield to no one in my admiration for the achievements of legendary conductors, orchestras, chamber groups, and soloists from the time when I was a mere pup. But to suppose that their artistic achievements never will be equaled is a poor bet.

Fritz Reiner
So by all means, check out the acknowledged masterworks from the heyday of analog stereo. You deserve to hear how Szell, Munch, Klemperer, and Mravinsky conducted** or how Rubinstein, Horowitz, and Fleisher played. I also admit, quite cheerfully, that some of my go-to recordings still are those classics, ones on which the virtues of the performance are so amazing that they outweigh any other considerations. But the number of those "matchless" classics keeps shrinking as I discover alternatives. For all of us, there should come a time when we start updating – or let's say "evolving" – our "recommended recordings" lists: as we find newer, world class performances that treat us to modern sound, maybe now is that time. And when you are choosing your "daily driver" recordings, the ones that you come back to when you just want to enjoy a favorite work, keep in mind that you often can have great performance plus great sound; no need to settle for just one.

* This effect usually is subtle, almost subliminal, and rarely noticeable on recordings of orchestras or where strings predominate. But try comparing analog to digital recordings of a piano with its rock solid pitches. Once you do hear that subtle wobble, you can’t unhear it.

** By the way, those classic orchestral recordings of decades past, as opposed to recordings of solo instrumentalists or chamber groups, may be the ones least likely to be equaled by more recent performances. That's not because those older musicians were uniquely talented, but because modern orchestras may not have as much rehearsal time available to hone their performances.

Dec 10, 2023

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 4, Paganini Rhapsody (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor, Op 1 (1919 version); Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 (1941 version); Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 43. Abbey Simon, piano; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, conductor. VOX-NX-3030CD

 Collectors have waited nine long months for this baby. Back in March of 2023 we reviewed the Naxos release of Abbey Simon’s traversal of the Rachmaninoff (today’s preferred spelling) Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 (you can read that review here) as part of their ongoing project of giving new life to classic recorded performances from the Vox catalog. Many experienced music lovers of a certain age are probably familiar with Vox, a budget label that produced some real gems back in the day. Although Vox was a budget label, the sound quality on some of their releases was superb, especially those recorded by Elite Recordings (engineer Marc Aubort and producer Joanna Nickrenz. Vox’s vinyl pressings were often substandard, unfortunately, which meant that what had been captured on the master tapes was not fully realized when played back on even the finest of listening equipment in music lovers’ homes. 


But thanks to contemporary digital technology, the engineers at Naxos have been able to go back to the original analog master tapes and create high-definition digital masters that preserve as faithfully as possible the sound that was originally captured by Elite Recordings in 1976 and 1977 when these musicians were originally assembled at Powell Hall in St. Louis. The efforts of those engineers have helped ensure that for music lovers, the wait was worth it, as both the music and the sound on this new release are first-rate. These “outer” concertos of Rachmaninoff are great fun, marked by energy and enthusiasm, which Simon, Slatkin, and the SLSO deliver in abundance without ever getting carried away into histrionics. As a bonus, we get a fine performance of the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Two less familiar and one more familiar works for piano and orchestra by one of the most towering masters of the keyboard are presented here by a pianist, conductor, and orchestra who all merit greater reputations than they currently possess. Those who listen to these performances that Elite Recordings so expertly recorded and Naxos so faithfully transferred to contemporary high-definition digital format for music lovers to enjoy via streaming and CD will likely raise their estimation of all involved.

Dec 6, 2023

Earthdrawn Skies (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Hildegard von Bingen: Columba aspexit (arr. Alex Fortes); Eleanor Alberga: String Quartet No. 1; Komitas Vardapet: Armenian Folk Songs (arr. Sergei Aslamazian) - Yergink Ampel A (It’s Cloudy); Haprpan (Festive Song); Shoushigi (For Shoushing); Echmiadzni Bar (Dance from Echmiadznin); Kaqavik (The Partridge); Sibelius: String Quartet in D minor Op. 56, “Voces Intimae.” Aizuri Quartet (Emma Frucht and Miho Saegusa violins; Ayane Kozasa, viola; Karen Ouzounian, cello). Azica ACD-71359 

Having never heard of the Aizuri Quartet before receiving this disc for review, I was not quite sure what to expect. The program seemed to be a bit unusual, too, what with music from Hildegard, Komitas, and Sibelius – familiar names, but not ones I would have expected to find together on the same program – plus a quartet from a composer whose name was unfamiliar to me, Eleanor Alberga. Opening the booklet that came with the CD, I found these words of explanation from Aizuri’s cellist, Karen Ouzounian: “Earthdrawn Skies explores deep connections between humankind and the natural world through the distinct lenses of four composers forging personal relationships with the soil and the stars. These works by Hildegard von Bingen, Eleanor Alberga, Komitas Vardepet and Jean Sibelius are rooted in a sense of tradition and connection to the land, even as the composers seek something beyond their reach: an understanding of God, the physics of the cosmos, homeland, happiness. The music on this album draws from the earth as it reaches upward and outward. these composers share an impulse to understand the sky, the heavens, the larger things in life. This is music we have kept returning to as a quartet, as it speaks to us in deeply personal ways. We cherish playing this music together, and we hope it resonates as much with you as it does with us.”

The opening piece by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) is an unusual choice for a string quartet in that rather than highlight the interplay among the four members, with the first and second violins swapping melodic lines in the upper registers while engaging in interplay with the darker tones of the viola and cello, weaving in and out of each other’s lines, the four players are bound tightly together. "The four of us have often talked about ‘singing through our instruments’ and how the quartet is one organism," remarks violinist Miho Saegusa. "Alex Fortes's arrangement of Hildegard's Columba aspexit presented us with a unique and challenging question, one we were excited to explore: how can we truly become one voice?" It’s an unusual sonority for a string quartet, but one that draws the listener in. What an effective way to begin an album!

Next on the docket is the three-movement String Quartet No. 1 by Eleanor Alberga (b.1949), a Jamaican-born composer who lives and works in the UK. From the very first measures of the first movement it is clearly a work that in tone and texture stands in contrast from the Bingen that preceded it. The pace is frantic, the mood more abstract. The overall pattern is the familiar fast-slow-fast, the engaging second movement (the highlight of the piece, designated Expressivo, with wonder and yearning) being followed by the more frenetic finale, with its sharper rhythms and pizzicato passages (it is designated Frantically driven yet playful). It sounds like one of those pieces that would be especially rewarding to see performed live, observing the interactions of the four players.

Then comes another shift in pace and mood with the five brief (none over three minutes) folk songs by the Armenian Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), usually known simply as “Komitas,” an Armenian musicologist, composer, music teacher, choir director, priest (thus the “Vardapet,”), whose actual given name was Soghomon Gevorki Soghomonyan. He is considered the father of Armenian classical music. These folk songs are lively and charming, enjoyable to hear as well as to play. "The music of Komitas gave us a sense of our roots, our homes and lands from which we were displaced, the contours and nuances of our language, the warmth and sorrow and ebullience of our families, a link between those who perished and those who are living," writes Ouzounian of the album's link to her Armenian heritage.

The album closes with the “Voces Intimae” quartet by Sibelius. As popular as his symphonies have become, his string quartet has never really caught on to the same degree. Some years back I read a fascinating book that I highly recommend titled Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony by Arnold Steinhardt, who was the first violinist of the famed Guarneri String Quartet. One of the tales from his account of his career with the group revolves around his repeated attempts to persuade the other members to add the Sibelius to the Guarneri’s repertoire. Surprisingly, it took many years before he was finally successful, as the other quartet members would not come to agreement that the Sibelius quartet was a worthy piece. My goodness! Violist Ayane Kokasa points out that “there are five movements instead of the traditional three or four. Each movement feels like a character piece, with the heart and soul of the work placed in three intimate and hushed chords tucked in the third movement. No matter how many times I listen to this piece, it feels new, like we are on the precipice of discovering something great.” It’s not one of those dramatic quartets that makes a memorable first impression; it’s a quartet that deserves and then rewards repeat listening. 

Azica Records deserves kudos for the liner notes that provide some insight into the music and musicians, the simple but compelling art that graces both cover and booklet, and the attractive sound quality. With Earthdrawn Skies, they have produced a CD that deserves and then rewards repeated listening.

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa