Jul 14, 2024

Bruckner and Bates: Orchestral Works (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major (1863, Edition Nowak); Bates: Resurrexit. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Manfred Honeck, conductor. Reference Recordings FR-757SAC

Listening to Bruckner can be exhausting. That statement is not meant as a slight against its quality; in fact, it’s something of a compliment, for it is the very quality and intensity of the music – and yes, its length and oft-repetitious structure – that can make listening to it an exhausting experience. But exhausting in a positive, satiated way. Based on my experience of seeing his Symphony No. 7 performed in concert, it also seemed to be an exhausting piece for the orchestra to play, for when the last notes of the finale finally faded away (it was the closing piece on the evening’s program, which had opened with something much lighter, a cello concerto by Haydn) Cello Concerto, many of the musicians in the orchestra looked as though they had truly given it their all and had nothing left to give. Given the power and intensity these Pittsburgh players bring to their playing on this release, which was pulled together from live performances recorded over March 25-27, 2022, I would imagine there were more than a few exhausted-looking countenances.

 

As is his custom, Maestro Honeck provides extensive notes on the music, not only its history and context, but also his approach to performance. Honeck observes that “throughout the music, Bruckner takes special care to notate specific expressive directions, for example the markings of ‘solemn’ or ‘misterioso,’ words that on the surface perhaps seem to have more to do with feeling than tempo. I view these, however, as direct clues to the tempo character, not only defining the expressive intent, but also signaling tempo modifications that would have been understood as part of the sensibility of the time. It is interesting to note that over time, these conventions would later come to be stretched to an extreme, leading Gustav Mahler to provide even clearer artistic instructions to the musicians, such as ‘don’t drag’ or ‘short break like a breath.’ Ultimately, I believe that with Bruckner, a balance must be found in honoring the expressive intent hidden within the musical text rather than merely focusing on pure execution. Just as Anton Bruckner himself remarked, ‘… many important things are not noted in the score’ …”

Maestro Honeck leads his Pittsburgh forces in a powerful performance that is captured in convincing sonic splendor by the engineering team from Soundmirror, the Boston-based firm that Reference Recordings employs for its Pittsburgh sessions. Reference Recordings made its name based on its audiophile-quality sound (“Professor Johnson’s Astounding Sound Show”), so if they trust Soundmirror to record for them, you know that Soundmirror knows what they are doing. This is Bruckner played and recorded superbly. 

Mason Bates
Honeck likes to include music by contemporary composers on his Pittsburgh recordings; this time around, that contemporary composer is Philadelphia-born Mason Bates (b. 1977), whose Resurrexit was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony in honor of Maestro Honeck’s 60th birthday. It is an amazing piece, 11 minutes of spellbinding musical excitement. It opens with a quasi-Middle Eastern sound, developing with brass, percussion, ultimately building into Telarc-level bass drum explosions that underpin passages of controlled orchestral fury. It is one of the most remarkable orchestral compositions I have auditioned in years. Exhilarating! 

With a first-rate Bruckner Seventh, an exciting piece by Bates, audiophile sound, and extensive liner notes, this is a recording not to be missed. Besides this physical SACD (I auditioned the CD layer), it is also available on several of the major streaming services; in addition, it can be downloaded in a variety of high-resolution formats from the Reference Recordings website.

 

Jul 10, 2024

Micah Thomas: Reveal (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Little Doctor (take 2)Look at the BirdsLightningErosSacred MemoryLittle Doctor (take 1)StarsTroubled MindDenardirn. Micah Thomas, piano; Dean Torrey, bass; Kayvon Gordon, drums. Artwork Records ARTR004CD

 

Those who have been following Classical Candor for a while know that I periodically throw in a review of a jazz album along with a brief explanation of why I believe jazz ought to be taken seriously as a form of chamber music. In this particular case, we have music by a piano trio: a jazz piano trio consisting of piano, bass, and drums, as opposed to a classical piano trio, which would consist of piano, violin, and cello. A famous example of the latter was the so-called “Million-Dollar Trio” of pianist Arthur Rubinstein, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and violinist Jascha Heifetz. They were given the nickname by a critic; unfortunately, Rubinstein hated the name so much that he couldn’t wait to leave the group, so their career was a brief one. A much more enduring example was the fames Beaux Arts Trio, which was anchored by its founding pianist Menahem Pressler throughout its 53-year career. 

 

Notable jazz piano trios of the past have included the Bill Evans Trio, Keith Jarrett’s “Standards” Trio, and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio; current leading jazz piano trios include The Brad Mehldau Trio, the Bobo Stenson Trio, GoGo Penguin, and the Vijay Iyer Trio. Now we have another young pianist leading a trio – and Micah Thomas, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1997, is clearly ready to enter the upper echelon. His musical life started young, picking out tunes on the keyboard at 2, playing concerts with as a high schooler with jazz violinist Christian Howes, earning a scholarship to Juilliard, going on to play with jazz luminaries such as Lage Lund, Immanuel Wilkins, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Billy Drummond. 

 

On Reveal, he works with bassist Torrey and drummer Gordon to bring us nine tracks that they recorded in one seven-hour session. What is especially interesting is that Thomas reveals that they “recorded it in the same room without isolation booths and with only minimal buffering, and while that set-up came with its own challenges (mainly, not being able to hear everything everybody was playing with crystal clarity through headphones), I think that we all benefitted from a powerful sense of relaxed creativity, and the actual experience of creating one unified sound.” The three musicians combine to produce music that swings, sparkles, and stimulates. Thomas can play with speed and power, yet he never seems to be playing an extra unneeded note. The music is clean, it’s tight, and it’s easy to recommend.

Jul 7, 2024

Silvestrov: Orchestral Works (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Symphony for Violin and Orchestra “Widmung” (“Dedication”)Postludium for Piano and Orchestra. Janusz Wawroski, violin; Jurgis Karnavičius, piano; Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Lyndon-Gee, conductor. NAXOS 8.574413

The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov was born in Kyiv in 1937. In March of 2022, at the age of 84, he left his home city with his daughter, granddaughter, and a suitcase full of manuscripts to undertake the difficult three-day journey to Berlin. He found himself and his family refugees, victims of the invasion of their home country ordered by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. His music is like no other. At times it floats serenely, but at other times can suddenly shout as though having a terrifying dream or disturbing memory. But much of it seems to allude rather than refer, suggest rather than imply, playing with memories of melodies, suggestions of sounds, reminders of rhythms. We have enjoyed numerous albums Silvestrov albums over the years and have reviewed a few, which you can read here (a release from pianist Helene Grimaud that also features some music by Mozart), here (choral music), and not quite a review – merely a recommendation – that you can read here.

Christopher Lyndon-Gee
But here we have orchestral music by Silvestrov, music that displays in full measure the unique sound world that Silvestrov inhabits. There are composers who just have a sound. Sibelius, for example, even though his symphonies vary in style, has an orchestral sound that is easy to hear. So it is with Silvestrov. When I first listened to the Symphony for Violin and Orchestra that opens this album, my mind was immediately drawn back to the first Silvestrov compositions I had ever encountered. Three decades ago, violinist Gidon Kremer headlined a CD release on the Teldec label that included this very composition – “Dedication” – coupled with a work titled Post Scriptum for violin and piano. It struck me at the time as an amazing work, like nothing I had never heard before. I could only think that had Mahler lived maybe five or ten years longer, he may have written something along these lines. Maybe… 

According to the NAXOS booklet, “when Gidon Kremer first heard his own recording of the work he spontaneously shouted out, ‘Death in Venice!’ And, after a moment, then closer to the truth, ‘Death in Kyiv!’... This music is like a Mass for everything that exists that is desirable, unattainable, or only to be arrived at in one’s imagination.”  Kremer’s reaction takes me back more than 50 years, back to my discovery of the music of Gustav Mahler, when as a young G.I. stationed in Germany I took a chance on a Deutsche Grammophon LP I found on sale for $1.25 in a PX in Stuttgart: the soundtrack to Visconti’s film Death in Venice, which featured several movements from Mahler symphonies. One listen and I was hooked for life. It was the same with Silvestrov ever since I first heard Dedication. This new release has meant reconnecting with something precious.

Postludium maintains a similar sound world, but of course with the piano rather than the violin as the featured instrument. Note that neither of these two pieces is described as a concerto; indeed, neither features a soloist showing off virtuoso chops to orchestral accompaniment. From the liner notes: “Malcolm MacDonald has said of Silvestrov’s music, that he ‘seems to compose, not the lament itself, but the lingering memory of it, the mood of sadness that it leaves behind’.” It is music like no other; it deserves to be heard. Highly recommended.

Jul 3, 2024

Wagner: Preludes and Overtures (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring 

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Act I – Prelude; Rienzi: Overture; Lohengrin: Act I – Prelude; Lohengrin: Act III: - Prelude; Parsifal: Act III – Karffreitagszauber (“Good Friday Music”); Die Walküre: Act III – Ritt der Walküren (“Ride of the Valkeries”). St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; Jerzy Semkow, conductor. VOX-NX-3044CD

 

It’s always gratifying to see more recordings from the Vox vaults being given new life thanks to the good folks at NAXOS, who have begun digging out some of the old analog master tapes that had been recorded by Elite Recordings back in the 1970s and preparing new digital masters using state-of-the-art 192 kHz/24-bit technology. As the note on the back cover proclaims, “The Elite Recordings for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestra recordings.” We have reviewed several of the previous Vox “Audiophile Edition” releases (e.g., Mozart piano concertos and a Rachmaninov symphony here and Rachmaninov piano concertos here). Those recordings featured the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, who was the SLSO’s music director from 1979 to 1996.

 

Jerzy Semkow
This Wagner album finds the orchestra conducted by Slatkin’s immediate predecessor, the Polish-born Jerzy Semkow (1928-2014), who served as SLSO music director from 1975 to 1979. The notes do not specify the recording dates, mentioning only that the original LP was released in 1978. To be honest, there are so many Wagner orchestral “Overtures & Preludes” albums to choose from on the market that this new Vox release faces some stiff competition. Its virtues include the excellent Elite Recordings sound that NAXOS has so carefully transferred from the original analog master tapes to contemporary digital format plus the straightforward, no-nonsense approach Semkow brings to Wagner’s music. These scores are colorful and expressive enough without a conductor having to add his own fits of frenzy. The liner notes by the late music critic Richard Freed (1928-2022) are a model of content and clarity, making this release especially recommendable to those just beginning their acquaintance with the music of Richard Wagner. 

Jun 30, 2024

American Dreams

by Bill Heck

Duke Ellington: Night Creature (arr. David Berger); George Gershwin: An American in Paris (ed. M. Clauge); Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Suite from “On the Waterfront”. Cincinnati Sympyhony Orchestra, cond. Louis Louis Langrée.  Fanfare Cincinnati. Available on most streaming platforms or for download from multiple sources.

Let me begin with a personal story: my wife and I lived in southwestern Ohio for about 10 years and during that period attended many Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performances. This was during Paavo Jarvi’s tenure as Music Director, and we left the area a few years before Louis Langrée took over. However, we returned a few times each year, our visits often including trips with friends to attend CSO concerts. On one of these occasions, we were invited backstage after the concert and were privileged to meet with Maestro Langrée for a few moments of truly enjoyable and educational conversation. Give these experiences, not to mention the quality of  the many performances that we heard there over the years, I've always had warm, fuzzy feelings for the Cincinnati Symphony. So you have been warned: in reviewing the album, I'm a homer.

Duke Ellington
All three of the works here can be classified as "crossover" pieces, in the sense that they attempt to fuse popular musical approaches with the classical tradition. However, at least to my mind, that sort of language is, at best, hopelessly vague. The classical music tradition, or perhaps I should say the art music tradition, encompasses a huge range of styles and influences. Bringing jazz idioms, as in the case of the first two works, or traditions of musical theater, as in the case of the third, to classical music is just another milestone on a very long road. As Duke Ellington observed “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

And speaking of Mr Ellington, the first piece in the collection here is his Night Creature. The work is deliberately symphonic, having been composed for the united forces of Ellington's big band plus a symphony orchestra. Although this is not generally regarded as one of Ellington's masterpieces, it sounds pretty appealing to me. (Hardly surprising, as it’s hard to believe that Ellington ever wrote really bad music.) We might also note that the “night creatures” are not the stock of horror films or cinema noir; instead they are fantasies, perhaps based on the people who inhabit the nighttime world in which musicians such as Ellington work and whom Ellington found fascinating.

George Gershwin
The booklet that accompanies the album is not explicit on where the "big band" musicians came from; some seem to be orchestra members, although the five saxophonists listed are referred to as "substitute musicians." Whatever the case. I'm old enough to have heard a couple of honest-to-goodness big bands: the playing here recalls the best of those, with solid timing and just a hint of the required swing without falling into the galumphing that too often was heard in the waning days of big band era (and is sometimes heard when classical musicians are trying just a little too hard to be jazzy). Langrée has everything moving along nicely and the balances allow us to hear into the heart of the arrangements.

Gershwin's An American in Paris is one of those pieces that you may have a hard time recalling until, upon hearing the first notes, you say "oh yeah, I know that!" The arrangement here for symphony orchestra has been around for a long time, but Langrée and the Cincinnatians make it sound like the piece was written just for them. The first word that occurred to me as I heard the opening bars was "lively" and I mean that in the best possible way: there's energy and crispness galore. Of course, tempos change as the music progresses and the moods vary, but the performance really is spot on throughout. The performance also is relaxed – and no, I'm not contradicting myself after saying that it's lively. I mean that it's relaxed in the sense that any professional makes their activity seem smooth and easy, regardless of how difficult it really might be at any moment.

Leonard Bernstein
The final work here, Bernstein's suite from On the Waterfront, is just what it sounds like: a collection of pieces from Bernstein’s score for the film of that name. (In the end, Bernstein was not happy with how his score was manipulated in the film; that’s presumably why he never wrote another movie score.) I've never been much of a fan of suites derived from film scores, as I generally miss the visual cues that help to make sense of the music; for me, this work is no exception. Still, although the piece in its entirety is not quite my cup of tea, I certainly can hear moments of appealing and interesting music, and the playing is more than up to par. If you're a Bernstein fan or more sympathetic than I to compositions of this sort, I think you'll be happy indeed. By now, it should go without saying that Langrée and the CSO make an excellent case for the work.

I can't close without remarking on the quality of the recording. The recording team of Dirk Sorbotka and Mark Donahue have done a masterful job indeed: balances are impeccable, the perspective is realistic, and there's just the right amount of hall sound to lend body without muddying up the presentation. Amazingly, these works were all recorded live; the audience must have been very healthy and quite enraptured, as there are no coughs, sneezes, or sounds of impatience. Indeed, the only indication that the audience was there at all is enthusiastic applause at the end of each work; frankly, I could have done without that bit – but my reaction is a minor quibble. A slightly more important quibble, although not a showstopper, is that the album notes available through streaming services and downloads give some interesting information about the history of the Cincinnati Symphony but lack any discussion of the music being played. However, detailed program notes are available through the CSO website, although it takes some digging to find them. (So that you don't need to do the digging, I've included a link right here.) Surely most listeners would be interested in these notes; it's a pity that a better arrangement for accessing them is not readily available.

You know, sometimes trying to review an album can be tiring (or even depressing if things are not so good). But sometimes, putting on a new album, and even listening a few times to really get into it, can be a delight. This album is one of the latter: it’s just flat out fun. If you were at all interested in the music, and you should be, have a listen!

Jun 26, 2024

Colorado MahlerFest XXXVI (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring 

Thea Musgrave: Phoenix Rising; Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection.” April Fredrick, soprano; Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano; Colorado MahlerFest Orchestra; Boulder Concert Chorale; Kenneth Woods, Artistic Director & Conductor. Purchase information can be found here.

 

We have previously encountered American conductor Kenneth Woods in his role as conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, where he has often championed the works of contemporary composers. But Woods wears another hat as Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and conductor of their orchestra. Colorado MahlerFest is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1988 that presents an annual, weeklong festival celebrating Mahler’s life and music as well as the works of composers who influenced Mahler and by composers whom Mahler in turn influenced. The orchestra is anchored by the “festival artists” who comprise the section principals and leaders. These musicians, who are all either major orchestra principals, professors, or experienced chamber musicians, do much of the recruiting for the orchestra in addition to anchoring the chamber music concerts that are also part of MahlerFest. In 2005, the International Gustav Mahler Society of Vienna awarded Colorado MahlerFest its rarely bestowed Mahler Gold Medal. MahlerFest was honored alongside the New York Philharmonic, joining such past recipients as the Vienna Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Last year, we reviewed MahlerFest XXXV, which featured a truly ambitious program: the grand Symphony No. 3 by Mahler along with the world premiere concert performance of Symphony No. 10 by the late English composer Christopher Gunning (1944-2023). 

This time around we are reviewing their latest CD release, which was recorded at the featured concert of MahlerFest XXXVI. As their online publicity material described it, “MahlerFest XXXVI celebrates humanity’s capacity for resilience and renewal in a festival week that culminates with Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 2 and Thea Musgrave’s Phoenix Rising. The theme for that concert, which was held on Sunday, May 31, 2023, was “Rise Again,” which captures the spirit of the music that is featured on this release. 


The Scottish composer Thea Musgrave (b. 1928), who has lived in the United States since 1972, writes of her composition Phoenix Rising, “my original sketches for this work imagined an extended single movement progressing from darkness (low and fast) to light (high, slow, and peaceful). This idea became focused dramatically in my mind only some months later, when, by chance, I saw a sign ‘Phoenix Rising’ hanging outside a Virginia coffee shop. As I like to interpret the ancient fable of the phoenix rising from the ashes as the promise of hope and rebirth, this sign struck me immediately as a visualization of what my piece was really about. Phoenix Rising is a single-movement orchestral work of about 23 minutes. The centerpiece is the magical moment when the phoenix rises. After an initial section wherein the orchestra depicts a world of stormy violence leading to a terrain of emptiness and despair, a short section marked mysterious starts with low set chords. As they gradually rise to a luminous chord played by pitched percussion (marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, and glockenspiel), imagine the fabled bird unfolding his giant wings, poised for flight. The second half of the work, in contrast, builds to a romantic climax and a coda of serenity of peace.” Although the work leans toward the abstract side, it does not lack for drama or color. The clarity of the recording helps – and by clarity, I do not mean exaggerated, close-up sound. Rather, there is a natural sense of the orchestra spread out before you, with sounds coming from many locations within a large space, much as Musgrave describes. It is a colorful, at times dramatic score; however, those who favor hummable melodies will be disappointed.

 

Then comes the main attraction, the Mahler. Conductor Woods comments that “Following a performance of the first three movements organized by his friend and colleague Richard Strauss in Berlin in March 1895, the complete symphony finally received its premiere in December. That performance was also organized by Strauss. As this year’s speaker Renate Starke-Voit writes in the introductory notes to the New Critical Edition, ‘Few masterpieces have ever premiered under such inauspicious circumstances.’ How could it have been otherwise for a work whose last line can perhaps be best translated for today’s readers as ‘everything that you fought for, that is what will carry you to God’.” Regardless of your level of belief in God, nature, nothing, anything, or whatever, it is hard not to be moved by a stirring performance of this majestic symphony, which is just what Maestro Woods and his assembled musicians deliver. Everything sounds balanced, tempos sound well-judged. It is a very good, very well-recorded performance. Yes, I’d like to hear a big organ sound in the finale, and no, it won’t displace the Klemperer/EMI as my absolute favorite – but it’s still well worth an audition. The MahlerFest website is also well worth checking out (you can find it here.)

Jun 23, 2024

Sibelius 2 & 5 from Montreal (CD Review)

by Ryan Ross 

Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat, Op. 82. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal. ATMA Classique ACD 22453. 

If I am counting correctly, this is the third release in Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s and the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal’s Sibelius symphony cycle on the ATMA Classique label. Presumably it is also the penultimate one, with just the Sixth and the Seventh left of the Finnish master’s numbered symphonies to fill the final entry. (This is assuming, of course, that the Kullervo Symphony won’t be included.) To be honest, I was disappointed with the previous outings, which included the First Symphony (ACD 22452), and the Third and Fourth coupled together (ACD 22454). I thought the Fourth better than the other two, but every one of these performances is dogged by issues of balance, tempo, and interpretive direction. While I am happy to report that this latest disc is an overall improvement, these issues remain to varying degrees, with the Fifth less affected by them overall than the Second. 

We’ll save the best for last and start with the Second Symphony. The good news is that Nézet-Séguin has a better sense of architecture and climactic arrival here than in the previous symphonies, though some musical summits are still a touch sluggish and pallid. The changes of tempo, too, are less pronounced than before, though pauses between phrases, sections, and changes of tempo can be noticeably labored. For instance, take the material directly after the opening figure’s statement, or the slowdown at Rehearsal H in the same movement. Nézet-Séguin is overly fond of rubato. This works in some of the more effusive Romantic repertoire, such as that by Tchaikovsky or Mahler, but it can easily be overdone even in early Sibelius. Luckily, the more sectional/non-sonata structures of the remaining movements conceal such momentum issues better, though the lunga at about three measures before Rehearsal E in the second movement is noticeably over-milked. 

 

A problem equally present throughout is that of balance. Usually this comes in the form of the strings overpowering the woodwinds when both are present, as in the “development” section of the first movement. But the opposite happens in the second movement, again at Rehearsal E where the string melody needs to be better projected. Most seriously, while the string playing is generally of high quality, I discern occasional instances where the woodwinds do not quite play sharply or together. Such spots include their sounding slightly out of sync three measures before Rehearsal D in the second movement, and at Rehearsal B in the finale. Leading up to the latter point, the timpani is much too abrasive at the poco forte. (I don’t hear much “poco!”) All in all, however, this performance is a definite advance beyond the same musicians’ Sibelius First. 

 

At the risk of eating my words after the next release, Nézet-Séguin seems to have a better feeling for later Sibelius. This Fifth is the best-performed symphony of the cycle so far, and the first one I can fully get behind. Here the tempo issues that bothered me so much elsewhere seem to have resolved. It was a nice surprise to have everything on this front be well judged. Minor issues of balance (for instance, overpowering strings preceding Rehearsal G in the first movement) and articulation (the winds again in just a few places, mostly during the first and second movements) do not significantly mar a solid performance. The finale is especially good, with a great opening tempo, subtly layered dynamics, and a generally firm grip on the musical action. Balance problems in this interpretation recede into insignificance, with an excellent string-woodwind dynamic at Rehearsal N particularly worthy of mention. The long, drawn-out ending is delivered convincingly. I hope this performance’s success is a harbinger of what’s yet to come. 

 

So what we have here is an okay Second Symphony and a good Fifth. Does this add up to a firm recommendation? I would have to say no. While it’s the best yet of Nézet-Séguins’s and the OMM’s Sibelius symphony cycle, this recording still comes up short of what I would consider to be the top-tier choices for Nos. 2 and 5. Likewise, the upcoming release of the Seventh will have to be fabulous indeed to enter this category. The good news is that there are relatively few great performances of the Sixth Symphony, which so many conductors seem to not “get” very well. A stellar showing in that work could do much to distinguish a cycle that for me is otherwise shaping up to be unremarkable.

Jun 19, 2024

Recent Releases No. 74 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

Cantabile: Anthems for Viola. Jonathan Harvey: Chant; Vaughan Williams: Romance; Bright Sheng: The Stream Flows; Bax: Sonata for Viola and Piano; Augusta Read Thomas: Song Without Words; Britten: Lachrymae: Reflections on a song of Dowland. Jordan Bak, viola; Richard Uttley, piano. Delphian DCD34317

The 29-year-old Jamaican-American violist Jordan Bak brings us music by composers both familiar and less well known on this new Delphian release. The opening selection, Chant, is a short (3:33) piece for solo viola written in 1992 by the British composer Jonathan Harvey (1939-2012). It has an edge to it but is never overly strident or harsh; if anything, it offers Bak an excellent way to grab our attention as he shows how his viola can speak – “chant” – with passion and expressive power. Then he brings us an unfamiliar piece from a familiar composer, the soothingly beautiful Romance by Vaughan Williams, for which he is joined by pianist Richard Uttley. This music is the serene, pastoral music for which Vaughan Williams is so beloved on both sides of the Atlantic, with both Bak and Uttley playing with conviction and warmth. More music for solo viola follows, with The Stream Flows by the Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng (b. 1955) seeming to flow naturally out from the RVW that precedes it, continuing along in a similar pastoral mood.

Pianist Uttley returns to join Bak for the remainder of the album, beginning with the next composition, the centerpiece of the program, Bax’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, which he began working on in 1920 and completed in 1922. The legendary violist Lionel Tertis gave the first performance, accompanied by the composer himself on piano. It is a substantial work in three movements, lasting about 28 minutes as performed here by Bak and Uttley. The first moment is lyrical and lovely, the second is more dramatic, and then the final movement is again lyrical, but with more of a somber feeling. It is a truly entertaining, engaging, and moving piece of music overall, with the rich tone of Bak’s viola being the perfect vehicle for Bax’s melodic gift. 

Next on the program is another work by a composer unfamiliar to me, Song without Words by the American composer Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964). The work exists in several versions, this arrangement for viola and piano having been specifically created for Bak and Uttley. According to the CD booklet, “the work’s gestures and myriad expressive details are directly informed by the poem; ‘I have found what you are like’ by E.E. Cummings, with Read Thomas’s music responding to and projecting its deep layers of meaning without uttering a word.” It’s an enigmatic piece, with ruminative lines from the viola punctuated by stabbing, inquisitive little phrases from the piano. Both instruments seem representative of a mind deep in thought and reflection. The program then closes with Britten’s Lachrymae, a series of 11 short “Reflections on a song of Dowland” by Benjamin Britten. This is a rather severe work, the least tuneful on the program. Some listeners will enjoy some of its moments of musical intensity, while others may find it somewhat on the abstract and disjointed side.

On the plus side, the liner notes are excellent, as is the sound quality. With more than 67 minutes of interesting viola music, this new Delphian release should have great appeal to fans of quality chamber music.

Zartir. Georges I. Gurdjieff, Thomas de Hartmann: PythiaNo. 10Sayyid Chant and Dance No. 41Introduction and Funeral CeremonyOriental DanceKankaravor Enker (Friend of Talents); Ashugh Jivani: Dard Mi Ani (Do Not Fret); Sayat-Nova: Thirty Gestures; Gurdjieff, de Hartmann: Prayer and DespairSayyid Chant and Dance No. 42Ashkharhes Me Panjarae (The World Is a Window); Sayat-Nova: Trembling Dervish; Baghdasar Dpir: Zartir (Wake Up); Gurdjieff, de Hartmann: The Great Prayer. The Gurdjieff Ensemble (Vladimir Papikyan, voice, santur, burvar, tmbuk, singing bowls; Emmanuel Hovhannisyan: duduk, pku; Meri Vardanyan, kanon; Armen Ayvazyan, kamancha, cymbal; Gagik Hakobyan; duduk; Norayr Gapoyan, duduk, bass duduk, pku; Avag Margaryan; blul; Aram Nikoghosyan; Oud; Astghik Snetsunts, kanon; Davit Avagyan, tar; Mesrop Khalatyan, dap, tmbuk, bells, triangle; Orestis Moustidis, tombak; Levon Eskenian, Artistic Director; National Chamber Choir of Armenia, Robert Mlkeyan, director. ECM 2788

Quoting from Wikipedia, “George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (c. 1867 – 29 October 1949) was a philosopher, mystic, spiritual teacher, composer, and ‘dance teacher.’ Gurdjieff taught that people are not conscious of themselves and thus live their lives in a state of hypnotic ‘waking sleep,’ but that it is possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness and serve our purpose as human beings.” As a composer, he sometimes collaborated with the Ukraine-born composer Thomas de Hartmann. On this album from the ECM label, the Lebanese-born Armenian musician Levon Eskenian, (b. 1978) who founded the Gurdjieff Ensemble in 2008, has arranged music by Gurdjieff and de Hartmann along with some tunes by Armenian bards and troubadours, including the title piece Zartir by Baghdasar Dpir (1683-1768). “Zartir” means “Wake up!” and its lyrics seem to echo Gurdjieff’s teaching that humanity is asleep and that people need to be roused from their unenlightened state.

The simplicity of the arrangements and the natural acoustic sounds of the folk instruments employed mean that although the language and instruments may be generally unfamiliar to Western ears, the music should have an immediate appeal. The CD booklet contains texts and background information that provides helpful context; in addition, the engineering is first-rate. For those willing to open their ears to some sounds from outside the mainstream, Zartir is well worth an audition.  

Jun 16, 2024

Important Announcement

by Karl Nehring

Starting in August, Classical Candor will no longer publish reviews on a regular schedule as we have done for so many years. Bill Heck and I, who have been running the site since the retirement late last year of the site’s founder, John Puccio, have decided the time has finally come to step back from our current level of commitment. 

However, we are not completely abandoning Classical Candor. Although we will no longer be committed to publishing on a regular schedule of two posts per week, we will still be posting reviews, but on an irregular, occasional basis. Our love for music is as strong as ever – maybe stronger – and when we come across recordings that we really enjoy, we’d love to tell you about them.

 

In addition, we plan to continue to update the list of Recommended Classical Recordings. We will post sections of the list on a rotating basis So there are plenty of good reasons to continue to follow Classical Candor far into the future.

Jun 12, 2024

Between Two Worlds (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes Op. 34 (for clarinet, string quartet, and piano); Joel Engel: The Dybbuk Suite Op. 35 (for clarinet, strings, and percussion); Paul Ben-Haim: Quintet Op. 31a (for clarinet and string quartet). Guy Yehuda, clarinet; Dmitri Berlinsky, violin; Yvonne Lam, violin; Eric Nowlin, viola; Suren Bagratuni, cello; Kevin Brown, bass; John Weber, percussion; Eric Zuber, piano. Reference Recordings FR-754 

 

It is always fun and uplifting to run across recordings of unfamiliar music performed by unfamiliar artists and find the experience a musical and sonic delight. Of course, when the release is from the Reference Recordings label, you can be awfully darn confident that the sound quality will be first-class, so it was easy enough to just sit back and listen to the music without even thinking about the sound – just the music, which is as it should be. In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that I am by nature predisposed to enjoy music that features the clarinet, my instrument. Oh, I haven’t seriously played the clarinet since high school, where I played both B-flat and bass clarinet (and was better on the latter, but mediocre at best on both, to be honest). To this day, I love the sound of the clarinet, which melts my heart and seduces my ear. Oh, my goodness…


Where was I? Oh yes, writing of this new recording, on which clarinetist Guy Yehuda and friends deliver a program comprising three twentieth century works that reflect Jewish cultural influences. Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes was inspired when Prokofiev, who was not Jewish, encountered a group of Russian Jewish musicians known as the Zimro Ensemble. This group, which was led by a celebrated clarinetist Simeon Bellison, gave a celebrated concert in Carnegie Hall when Prokofiev was living in New York, met Prokofiev, gave him a notebook of Jewish melodies, and requested that the composer write a piece for them. The end result is the delightful composition that opens this disc.

Joel Engel (1868-1827) was born in Russia but worked in Berlin and Jerusalem, He recorded folk music from small Jewish villages and published many of the melodies, which meant that he influenced many later composers who came to incorporate some of these Jewish melodies and themes into their music, e.g., Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Bernstein, For a time, Engels’s own music was largely forgotten, but is now being brought back to life, as in the recording. This colorful music, expressive and lively; it makes you want to hear more by this composer.

 

The late Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984) should be more familiar to most readers. Ben-Haim was born in Munich and for a time served as an assistant conductor to Bruno Walter and Hans Knappertsbusch before becoming conductor at the Augsburg opera. He fled Germany for Israel (then British Mandate Palestine) in 1933) to flee Nazi rule. His Quintet is in three movements that are captivating from start to finish, especially the second movement Capriccio that crackles with wit and energy. The final movement is in theme and variations form, with an enigmatic ending, thoughtful and spare. It’s a beautifully thought-out composition.

 

Finally, I must make mention of the CD booklet, which is exemplary. Not only does it provide useful information about the music, the composers, the musicians, but it is also adorned with photographs and entertaining artwork. All in all, Between Two Worlds is truly a world-class release.

Jun 9, 2024

Rachmaninoff for Two (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

(CD1) Symphony No. 2 in E minor op. 27: 3. Adagio (Transcr. for 2 pianos by Daniil Trifonov)Suite No.2 for 2 Pianos op. 17; (CD2) Suite No. 1 for 2 Pianos “Fantaisie (Tableaux)” op. 5Symphonic Dances op. 45 (Version for 2 pianos). Sergei Babayan, piano; Daniil Trifonov, piano. Deutsche Grammophon 486 4805

I think we sometimes tend to forget just how talented a musician the Russian-born Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) really was. Not only was he one of the all-time-great piano virtuosos, but he also excelled as a composer and even as a conductor, having been appointed at the age of 31 to the conducting staff of the prestigious Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. While at the Bolshoi, the young Rachmaninoff was in charge of presenting major Russian ballets, operas, and orchestral works. What is particularly compelling about this new album from the Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov (b. 1991) and Armenian-American pianist Sergei Babayan (b. 1961) is that we get to hear arrangements of two of Rachmaninoff’s best-loved orchestral works, offering us new insights into their structure while enchanting us with pianistic virtuosity and color.

 

A closer look at the cover photo leads to the observation that the two pianos being played by the two pianists are not identical. As it turns out, Babayan plays a Steinway, while Trifonov plays a Bösendorfer. The program opens with Trifonov’s arrangement of the famous Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. For those familiar with the lushly scored orchestral original, this version offers a whole new way to enjoy the music. Next up are two suites written explicitly for two pianos. Suite No. 1 was inspired by and dedicated to Tchaikovsky, who unfortunately succumbed to cholera before the work’s premiere. The Suite No. 2, which Rachmaninoff composed concurrently with his Piano Concerto No. 2, is a lively work suffused with dance rhythms. Trifonov and Babayan really sparkle in these two works, bringing energy and enthusiasm that really brings out the dance-like elements. 

 

Only in the Symphonic Dances did I at times find myself missing the color, weight, and heft of the orchestra. The arrangement, by the way, is by Rachmaninoff himself. Still, despite my reservations, it is interesting to hear – it is just that the Trifonov transcription that opens the program strikes these ears as more convincing. Overall, though, Rachmaninoff for Two is an entertaining release, well worth an audition.

Jun 5, 2024

Recent Releases No. 73 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring   

Maya Beiser X Terry Riley: In C. Maya Beiser, cello; vocals; Shane Shanahan, drums; Matt Kilmer, drums. Islandia Music Records IMR014

 

Our previous encounter with the American cellist Maya Beiser (b. 1963) was with her unusual but captivating traversal of Bach’s venerable Suites for Solo Cello. With this new release she has leaped forward several centuries to bring us music from the American composer Terry Riley (b. 1935), her arrangement of his seminal 1964 composition In C. “To me,” says Beiser, “Terry Riley’s In C is an amalgamation of an ‘open source’ and ‘sacred text.’ In creating this album I was interested in finding the serendipitous rhythmic and melodic connections that emerge when reconstructing In C’s 53 melodic cells as a series of cello loops, floating above continuous C string cello drones. The cello’s lowest, most lush string, with its overtones and harmonics, forms the depth and resonance of the album.” The end result is music that is at once both simple and fascinatingly compelling. The cello supplies the drone, but also plays above it. The drummers add rhythmic intensity that drive the music along without ever threatening to overpower it. 

In a recent Substack posting (which you can find here) the brilliant music and culture critic Ted Gioia enthusiastically recommended a dozen albums for what he termed “immersive listening.” His selections ranged from Mahler to Miles to Metallica,  Hildegard Jarrett, to Bach and beyond – and although he mentioned but did not quite recommend early Riley, I’m confident that this 21st-century take on early Riley by Maya Beiser and friends is just the sort of immersive listening experience that he would heartily endorse (I urge Classical Candor readers to seek out Mr. Gioia’s publications and especially his Substack column, The Honest Broker, for his insights into music and other matters). 

 

The engineering lends itself to an immersive experience, especially to those who might choose to listen with headphones or earbuds; however, those who listen through a more standard stereo loudspeaker setup will not be disappointed by the full, rich, spacious sound. It's a spellbinding release, well worth an audition for those with a carefree spirit.

 

Touch of Time. Arve Henriksen/Harmen Fraanje: MelancholiaThe Beauty of Sundays; Fraanje: Redream; Henriksen/Fraanje: The Dark Light; Fraanje: What All This Is; Henriksen/Fraanje: Mirror Images; Fraanje: Touch of Time; Henriksen/Fraanje: Winter HazeRed and BlackPassing on the Past. Arve Henriksen, trumpet, electronics; Harmen Fraanje, piano. ECM 2794 587 0512

 

The Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen (b.1968) and Dutch pianist Harmen Fraanje (b. 1976) have combined their composing and performing talents to produce an album that is difficult to classify but easy to enjoy. Although both are considered jazz musicians, and the compositions are brief tunes that certainly make this release look to be a jazz album, the impression that the music makes is not far removed from what a classical listener might expect to form upon listening to an album of chamber music by, say, Debussy or Ravel. This is music that insinuates rather than shouts, making its points quietly, inviting us into a peaceful yet stimulating realm. I was eager to hear this album based upon my fond memory of Henriksen’s magical ECM album Cartography, (which I was shocked to discover was released way back in 2010), and I was not disappointed. 


But where that album was heavily multilayered and electronic, this new one is simpler and more acoustic in its soundscape and orientation, which should make it more accessible and immediately appealing to Classical Candor readers. The only negative that might put some folks off is its duration, around 38 minutes – 38 blissful minutes, to be sure, but more bliss would certainly not be amiss. Still, Touch of Time is well worth your time.

Jun 2, 2024

Nielsen: Orchestral Works (CD Review)

by Ryan Ross

Flute ConcertoSymphony No. 3, Op. 27 (“Sinfonia espansiva”); Pan og Syrinx (“Pan and Syrinx”), Op. 49. Adam Walker, flute; Edward Gardner, conductor; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Chandos CHSA 5312

This is the second entry in Chandos’s new Nielsen orchestral music cycle by conductor Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. I am a big fan of the first, which came out last year and features terrific performances of the Fourth Symphony (“The Inextinguishable”) and the Violin Concerto (with violinist James Ehnes). Happily, this new recording maintains its predecessor’s excellence. Gardner and the BPO bring their customary energy to the Third Symphony (“Sinfonia espansiva”), the tone poem Pan and Syrinx, and the Flute Concerto, with flutist Adam Walker doing stellar work in the soloist role. In a recent review of another Nielsen symphony cycle (which you can read here,) I pleaded for performers who properly understand this music. I don’t know how the forthcoming recordings in this Chandos series will turn out, but at two discs in I’m comfortable saying that my wish has been granted. 

First served is Pan and Syrinx, which Nielsen dubbed a “Nature Scene for Orchestra.” He was inspired by the corresponding episode depicted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the nymph Syrinx ends up becoming the reeds of Pan’s famous pipes. The work clocks in at under 9 minutes but is quite immersive. It makes one wish that Nielsen had lavished as much attention on the tone poem genre as did his fellow great Nordic composer Jean Sibelius. The woodwinds do heavy duty work, but members of the BPO are every bit up to the challenge. The listener gets treated to a suitably lush, vivid atmosphere. 

 

Next comes the Flute Concerto, one of my favorite scores by Nielsen. Like the Fifth Symphony completed not more than five years earlier, it comprises an eventful two movements. Walker and Gardner adopt a nice, crisp tempo to start things off. Middleground voices are extremely important in this music, and supporting woodwinds (especially a clarinet that earns their paycheck throughout) sound sharp and well balanced with the soloist and strings. The structure of the first movement is unique. I have written elsewhere about the importance of what I call the “Simple Original” theme, which is foreshadowed before it appears in full at Rehearsal E. Walker leads this tune beautifully, with a suitably Arcadian feeling. When the main theme comes back in tutti at the following rehearsal, Gardner and the BPO don’t disappoint in their liveliness. 

The second movement similarly tests the performers’ ability convincingly to assume multiple character states in turn. The performers meet this challenge richly, even managing to re-color the main rondo theme slightly with every reappearance. The dynamic gradations are splendid everywhere, but particularly in the Tempo di Marcia. If I have one criticism, it’s that the trombone could have better brought out the “Simple Original” theme as it jovially waves farewell from the background at the work’s conclusion. But this is a quibble set against an overall distinguished interpretation.

 

Not long ago, I gave Fabio Luisi a hard time here at Classical Candor for leading Nielsen’s Third Symphony in a syrupy and overly Romantic manner in his recent cycle with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra. If my readers were waiting for an exemplary new alternative, they have it right here. Gardner’s account is everything Luisi’s bloated one isn’t: energetic, balanced, and gorgeously clear. I hopped up and down excitedly with the introductory chords. I could tell right away that the tempo would be brisk and the rhythms sharp. This is colorful, surging music, and the listener gets treated to every such shade in full. The phrasing and dynamics are likewise rendered with great care, but not in a micro-managed way that detracts from the experience. The first movement’s middle climax here is the best since Bernstein’s with the Royal Danish Orchestra (Sony SMK 47598). You can hear everything! 

For the most part the rest of the performance lives up to the opening. I thought the Arcadian second movement could be a bit slower, but at 9:08 it is within a sliver of Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony (London 430 280-2), which is another first-rate outing. The wordless vocalists are mostly very good, though soprano Lina Johnson sometimes sounds a bit strained in her high pitches. Movement 3 is correspondingly quick, with very precise playing. For me, a big test there is how the orchestra delivers the gentle lyrical theme at Rehearsal 13. This test is soundly passed. A fast, punchy finale properly rounds things out. While I could use a bit more pastoral magic following the a tempo at Rehearsal 9, the builds and climaxes throughout are appreciably robust. The peroration is satisfying lusty. 

 

I hope this Chandos series is getting the attention it deserves. We are two discs in, and every interpretation so far is a winner. It is gratifying to see a growing Nielsen recording catalogue, with the composer apparently beginning to receive the respect due to him as an important and highly individual twentieth-century symphonist. The tone poem and concerto in this installment can be recommended with the best available options. And while Bernstein and the RDO remain my top choice for the Sinfonia espaniva, Gardner and the BPO’s entry here amply merits investment. I can’t wait to hear what they serve up next!

May 29, 2024

Brad Mehldau: Après Fauré (CD Review)

by Karl Nehring

Fauré: Nocturne No. 13 in B Minor, Op. 119Nocturne No. 4 in E-Flat Major, Op. 56Nocturne No. 12 in E Minor, Op. 107; Mehldau: PreludeCapriceNocturneVision; Fauré: Nocturne No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 74Extract from Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45: III. Adagio non troppo. Brad Mehldau, piano. Nonesuch 075597900859

The American pianist Brad Mehldau (b. 1970) is best known for his work in the jazz arena, perhaps most widely as the leader of his own trio, but also for his work with other prominent jazz musicians such as guitarist Pat Metheny and saxophonist Josh Redman. If you really want to hear some peak jazz Mehldau, you really can do no better than his “The Art of the Trio” albums from the 1990s, especially The Art of the Trio III – Songs (Warner Brothers 9362-47051-2), which is absolutely amazing. However, his musical interests are not restricted to jazz alone. For example, he has composed songs and performed recitals with classical singers such as Renee Fleming, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Ian Bostridge. Other examples of his wide musical interests and talents include an album titled Taming the Dragon, on which he plays a variety of electronic synthesizers while paired with drummer/percussionist Mark Giuliana, and an album win which he performs what is essentially a classical piano concerto of his own composition, accompanied by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Our review of that album, titled Variations on a Melancholy Themecan be found here.

 

We have also reviewed some other releases by Mehldau in the past, these featuring his output for solo piano. In 2020, Mehldau released an album he recorded while holed up at home with his family in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. It contains some reflective original music along with tunes by Billy Joel and Neil Young (you can find our review here). Then in 2023, Mehldau created quite a stir when he released Your Mother Should Know, his imaginative keyboard takes on Beatles classics, which you can read about here. But of more interest to followers of Classical Candor might well be an album that he released early in 2018, some months before my old friend and colleague John Puccio invited me to join him here at Classical Candor. his solo piano album After Bach (Nonesuch 7559-79318-0), which contains five selections from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier plus some Mehldau originals inspired by them. Fast-forward six years and we now were recently blessed with After Bach II, which also contains selections from The Well-Tempered Clavier plus some Mehldau originals inspired by them. In addition, we also get to hear Mehldau improvising on the theme from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a nice bonus (you can find our review here).

 

Simultaneous with the release of After Bach II, Nonesuch also released another solo piano release by Mehldau that features another of his forays into the classical repertoire. As you can see from the track listing above, Après Fauré follows the general pattern of the two Bach recordings by including primarily originals by Fauré plus some original music by Mehldau inspired by the French master. Mehldau observes Faure’s late piano music that it is “music that breathes austerity and weirdness all at once. The most familiar model for that uneasy phenomenon is Beethoven, in music like his last String Quartets. Faure’s late music shares this quality.” You can certainly feel that uneasiness as you listen to the opening Nocturne No. 13, which in Mehldau’s interpretation seems to be searching for something that it can never quite find. Still, there is a tranquility, a tenderness, a glimmer of hope. The Nocturne No. 4 that follows is not as enigmatic, but is still possessed of that Fauré-like quality of sounding simple and complex at the same time – a reflecting pool of water stirred by a gentle breeze.

Mehldau writes that “I have composed four pieces Après Fauré to accompany Fauré’s music here, to share the way I have engaged with Fauré’s question, with you, the listener. This format is similar to my After Bach project. The connections are less overt, but Fauré’s harmonic imprint is on all four. There is also a textural influence, in terms of how he presented his musical material pianistically – he exploited the instrument’s sonority masterfully, as an expressive means.” These four short pieces are lyrically expressive, more direct and intense than the Fauré – you can hear that they were inspired by but are not imitations of Faure. Interesting! Mehldau then ends his program with his reduction of an extract of the Adagio movement of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 2, a dreamlike, wistful bit of music that floats by like a cloud on a warm, bright summer day. As was the After Bach II album, Après Fauré has been expertly engineered by Tom Lazarus, and Mehldau has once again provided fascinating liner notes. If you have not yet encountered the piano music of Fauré, this release would be an excellent place to start, but even if you are already familiar with his piano music, Mehldau’s perspective is well worth consideration. Highly recommended! 

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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

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

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

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

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

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

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

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

Ryan Ross, Contributor

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

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


Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

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

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

Mission Statement

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

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

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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa