Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Smetana: The Bartered Bride Overture. Istvan Kertesz, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. HDTT remastered.

Jewish-Hungarian conductor Istvan Kertesz (1929-1973) died tragically young, drowned while swimming off the coast of Israel. But before his death, he recorded Dvorak's Ninth Symphony twice in stereo. The first time was the Decca recording we have here, made with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1961. The second time was just a few years later, in 1966, again with Decca but with the London Symphony. Why did he re-record it? Possibly because he was recording all nine of Dvorak's symphonies with the LSO and wanted continuity within the set. Possibly because he felt he had more to say on the subject. And possibly because he wanted to restore the first-movement repeat that he had omitted in the earlier recording.

Who knows? Whatever the case, Kertesz fans have been arguing ever since about which version they like best, the first, more youthful, more impetuous one under review or the second, more mature, more complete one. Moreover, there remains some disagreement among audiophiles about which recording sounds best from a purely sonic viewpoint: the earlier, more dynamic one or the later, more refined one.

The first time I heard Kertesz's Vienna rendering was in the late Sixties or early Seventies when an acquaintance bought a pair of Infinity Servo-Static I's, electrostatic/cone hybrids considered at the time to be one of the finest speaker systems in the world. The first thing the acquaintance put on the turntable was an LP of this recording by Kertesz and the VPO. I was stunned by the sound--the sonics of both the high-end playback system and the record.

Of course, I had to buy the album. (I would loved to have bought the Infinity speakers, too, but the price was astronomical). In any case, the album did not disappoint me, and even though I could only afford a pair of AR-3a's back then, the speakers brought out most everything good about the Kertesz/VPO sound. Then came the digital age in the early Eighties, and I moved on to the compact disc of the recording, which sorely disappointed me. It seemed edgier and to have lost much of its impact.

Which brings me to this High Definition Tape Transfers remastered version of the recording, made by HDTT in 2017. I'm happy to say that because HDTT transferred it from a Decca tape and did so with care, it sounds much as I remembered the old LP. Meaning it doesn't get any better, and it just might return to a lot of audiophile systems as a demonstration piece.

Anyway, let's start with a word about Kertesz's interpretation of the symphony. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote the work in 1893 while serving as director of the New York Conservatory. Many listeners over the years have heard instances of American idioms in the music, especially African-American spirituals and Native-American influences, but Dvorak said most of the music was original, probably inspired more by his native Bohemia than anything "American." The symphony's title, "From the New World," only came about because Dvorak happened to be living in New York at the time he wrote it. While to some degree local tunes may have influenced the composer, the music seems mostly Czech in flavor. At the very least, as Leonard Bernstein once remarked, one might consider it multinational.

In the first movement, Kertesz is both fervent and affectionate. While some listeners may miss the repeat, the abbreviated time here seems more suited to the conductor's urgent manner. Moreover, Kertesz is never reluctant to convey the work's Gypsy fire, and he closes the first movement in a thrilling blaze of passion.

The slow, quiet, second-movement Largo, with its famous cor anglais melody, sounds as sweetly fluid as any you'll find. Then Kertesz gives us an energetic reading of the Scherzo and ends the piece with a roaring good finale, full of excitement and good cheer. Maybe his LSO performance shows us a more unified, better constructed piece of music, but this earlier realization is undoubtedly the more enrapturing one.

For a coupling, the folks at HDTT provide another Czech work, The Bartered Bride Overture by Bedrich Smetana (1824–1884). This time, however, the conductor is Fritz Reiner, the orchestra is the Chicago Symphony, and the remaster is from an RCA "Living Stereo" recording. Reiner was also a fine interpreter of Czech and Hungarian music, and he provides a properly rustic and rousing rendition of the score.

Producer Ray Minshull and engineer James Brown recorded the Dvorak at the Sofiensaal, Vienna in 1961, and producer Richard Mohr and engineer Robert Layton recorded the Smetana in Chicago, 1955. HDTT transferred both works from 15-ips tapes to DSD (Direct Stream Digital) 256.

The remastering restores the sound of the Dvorak, as I said, to much as I remembered it from the old LP days. It's very dynamic, with a solid impact, helped all the more by its excellent definition. Some listeners might object to the timpani being rather closely miked, but it helps to bring out all the fire and warmth of the work. The stereo spread is broad, and the resonance is just enough to impart a realistic feeling for the hall. In the Smetana overture, the sound is even broader across the speakers and perhaps a trifle thinner and brighter as well.

Even after all these years, the Dvorak recording remains a standout audiophile choice, and both the sound and the performance must command a place among the top recommendations for this work.

For further information on HDTT products, prices, discs, and downloads in a variety of formats, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

Classical Music News of the Week, May 20, 2017

Bravo! Vail Music Festival Announces Its 30th Season: June 22-August 4, 2017

The Bravo! Vail Music Festival announces its 30th season, which runs from June 22 to August 4, 2017. The season features the return of its longtime resident ensembles the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic as well as the second-annual residency of the London-based chamber orchestra the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, led by violinist and Music Director Joshua Bell. The 30th season celebration includes five world premieres signifying the launch of a New Works Project, and seven string quartets performing in its various chamber music programs.

Bravo! Vail's historic 30th season also features Jaap van Zweden and Alan Gilbert in their final Bravo! Vail concerts as music directors of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic, respectively.

For tickets, please visit bravovail.org, or call the Box Office at 877.812.5700.

--Amanda Sweet, Bucklesweet Media

Rising Opera Star Avery Amereau to Join PBO Next Season
The New York Times calls her "a rarity in music." Joyce DiDonato describes her voice as "like velvet, caramel chocolate." Maestro Thomas Crawford of the American Classical Orchestra proclaims, "the voice is just ravishing." And now Bay Area audiences will have a chance to hear it for themselves when up-and-coming contralto Avery Amereau performs with PBO in two separate programs next season.

Avery is finishing her studies at the Juilliard School where she completed a master's degree and has made notable appearances onstage this past season including her Metropolitan Opera debut as the madrigal singer in Manon Lescaut, the title role of Carmen with Opera Columbus, and a return to Glyndebourne Festival Opera for her debut with the Festival in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Avery's unique voice is noted as being "contralto in vocal color and range" by vocal guru Matthew Epstein. But she considers herself to be an alto and bills herself as a mezzo-soprano. She'll be singing the mezzo roles with us next season.

Avery will first appear along with composers Sally Beamish and Caroline Shaw in a PBO "SESSIONS: New Music for Old Instruments," that will focus on female composers and the female musicians who bring their music to life. Then she'll join us again in April for the "Beethoven Unleashed" program where she'll perform in Beethoven's Mass in C major and his "Choral Fantasy."

--Dianne Provenzano, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Orion Ensemble, May 24
The Orion Ensemble is concluding its season with a program featuring two works by Jean Francaix and a work by Brahms. Preceding the May 24 performance at the PianoForte Studios in downtown Chicago, Daniela Broderick will give a talk on "The young and the mature Jean Françaix - a comparison of his style in two chamber works 57 years apart."

The Orion Ensemble's concert program "Wit and Passion" takes place Sunday, May 21 at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Geneva, 2300 South Street in Geneva; Wednesday, May 24, with CYSO quintet Zephyrus, at 7:30 p.m. at the PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago; and Sunday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, Illinois. Single tickets are $26, $23 for seniors and $10 for students; admission is free for children 12 and younger. For tickets or more information, call 630-628-9591 or visit orionensemble.org.

--Jill Chukerman, JAC Communications

Foundation to Assist Young Musicians (FAYM)
Just a note of thanks to far-away family & friends for your support of FAYM!

Our kids and teachers in the "Violins for Kids" program are doing well and will be showing off this Saturday with their 10th Annual Spring Concert. Then, in June, our youngsters will come together for an intensive week of classes and performances in FAYM's Summer Camp.

If we could....we'd come to your home and serenade you for helping to make it all possible!  Just know that you are very much in our thoughts and that we appreciate all you have done to enrich the lives of our FAYMsters!

Spring concert: Saturday, May 20, 3pm
East Las Vegas Community Center
250 North Eastern Ave., Las Vegas, NV

String Orchestra FAYM Presents Summer Camp
June12-16. 8:30 am - 12:30 pm
Concert: June 17, 10am
Valley High Schoo, Las Vegas, NV

For more information, visit http://thefaym.org/

--Hal Weller, FAYM

YoungArts Presents Little Boy Lost: One Child's Story of Life Behind Bars
On May 20, 2017, the National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) will present Little Boy Lost: One Child's Story of Life Behind Bars, a collaborative work that amplifies the voices of incarcerated youth through the story of 20-year-old Miami native Damien Duncan. The performance is part of YoungArts' celebrated Outside the Box series, which engages the community with free, multidisciplinary performances that take place outside of the iconic Jewel Box on the YoungArts Plaza.

Created by composer and performer Daniel Bernard Roumain and journalist Lisa Armstrong, Little Boy Lost employs classical music, spoken word, rap and film to address the issue of youth incarceration and the prison industrial complex through the eyes of one young adult. At the center of the performance is a 40-minute documentary by Armstrong with live scoring by Roumain, cinematography by Nilo Batle (2017 YoungArts Winner in Cinematic Arts), and spoken word by Simbaa Gordon (2016 YoungArts Winner in Writing).

Little Boy Lost follows a day in the life of Damien, who has recently been released from state prison, and has since become a role model in his local community by volunteering as an active mentor for Empowered Youth, a non-profit that helps at-risk inner city teens in Dade-County. Through transmedia, Roumain unpacks the cultural and socio-economic context of Damien's experience, and highlights what could have been through character juxtaposition with YoungArts alumnus Gordon.

For more information, visit youngarts.org
To watch a brief video about YoungArts, visit http://www.youngarts.org/about

--Heike Dempster, National YoungArts Foundation

Notes from Festival Mosaic
Each year the Festival Mosaic returns to beloved venues like Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Serra Chapel in Shandon, See Canyon in Avila Beach, and other spaces that showcase the beauty of the Central Coast. For 2017, we're excited to partner with some new venues. We hope you join us!

Festival Mozaic is delighted to partner with the History Center of San Luis Obispo County to present "The French Connection," a brunch and Notable Encounter on Sunday, July 30, featuring music of Maurice Ravel for flute, viola and harp. The Dallidet Adobe and Gardens were the private home of Pierre Hypolite Dallidet. Pierre and his family were well educated, traveled, and interested in the arts and natural sciences. Pierre Sr. owned many properties, mining claims, farm and ranch lands, but is remembered most for starting the first commercial winery on the central coast. Only a few tickets remain for this brunch event on the final day of our 2017 Festival!

For more information, visit http://www.festivalmozaic.com/

--Festival Mosaic

Naxos at 30
Naxos was launched in 1987 as a budget classical CD label, offering CDs at the price of an LP at a time when CDs cost about three times more than LPs. The focus was on recording the standard repertoire in state-of-the-art digital sound with outstanding, if unknown artists and orchestras, initially mainly from Eastern Europe. From these humble beginnings, Naxos developed into one of the world's leading classical labels, recording a wide range of repertoire with artists and orchestras from more than 30 countries.

The Naxos Music Group will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of Naxos with events in Munich and London, including a gala concert on May 16 at the Court Chapel in Munich featuring Naxos artists Boris Giltburg, Tianwa Yang and Gabriel Schwabe.

Today, at the gala event in Munich, Klaus Heymann, the founder of Naxos, will receive the Special Achievement Award of the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA) awarded to him on April 1, 2017. Says ICMA President Remy Franck: "Klaus Heymann has changed the recording industry and without him it would never have achieved the dynamic it has today, despite all the problems which might exist. Due to his strong visions, his incredible efficiency and has profound love for the music he became the industry's major player."

For more information, visit visit www.naxosmusicgroup.com

--Kelly Voigt, Naxos USA

Met's New Production of Dvorák's Haunting Fairy Tale Rusalka
Kristine Opolais stars in her first Met performances of her breakthrough role, the title character in Antonin Dvorak's Rusalka, in a critically acclaimed new staging, directed by Mary Zimmerman and conducted by Mark Elder, on "Great Performances at the Met" Sunday, June 18 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

This haunting love story also stars Jamie Barton as the witch Jezibaba, with Katarina Dalayman as the Foreign Princess, Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince, and Eric Owens as Rusalka's father, the Water Sprite.

The opera premiered at the National Theater in Prague in 1901. The only one of Dvorák's operas to gain an international following (so far), Rusalka is in many ways a definitive example of late Romanticism-containing folklore, evocations of the natural and the supernatural worlds, and even a poignant interpretation of the idea of a love-death. The story has a strong national flavor as well as universal appeal, infused by the Romantic supernaturalism of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's novella Undine (previously set as an opera by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Tchaikovsky, and others) and Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

Visit Great Performances online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information on this and other Great Performances programs.

--Harry Forbes, WNET

ICE Performs Free Pop-Up Concert at Miller Theatre
The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), returns to the Miller Theatre for "ICE: Animal Behaviors," a free Pop-Up concert on Tuesday, June 6 at 6:00 p.m. ICE members Jacob Greenberg (piano), Nuiko Wadden (harp), Ryan Muncy (saxophone), and Dan Lippel (guitar) will perform a program that re-examines the basic animal nature of each of the featured instruments' personalities, from ferocity to tenderness, and everything in between. The chamber pieces explore how instruments camouflage each other's sound, while the natural and unnatural tendencies of harp, saxophone, and Indian harmonium are highlighted in the solo works.

The concert's unique on-stage seating will allow audience members an intimate look into the world premiere of Dai Fujikura's White Rainbow (2016) for Indian harmonium; Drew Baker's Skulls (2016) for guitar and harp; Mikel Kuehn's Entanglements (2016) for harp and guitar; Ann Cleare's luna (the eye that opens the other eye) (2014) for solo saxophone; Suzanne Farrin's Polvere et Ombra (2009) for solo harp; and Alex Mincek's Pendulum III (2009) for saxophone and piano.

Tuesday, June 6 at 6:00 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)
Tickets: Free on a first-come, first-served basis

Miller Theatre at Columbia University
2960 Broadway (at 116th Street)
New York, NY 10027

Read more at iceorg.org

--Katlyn Morahan, Morahan Arts and Media

Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony (CD review)

Also Schnittke: Concerto for Piano and Strings. Constantine Orbelian, pianist and conductor; Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Delos DE 3259.

This disc prepares you for the unyielding material it contains by declaring on the cover, "Dedicated to Victims of War and Terror." Conductor Constantine Orbelian's grandparents were victims of such injustices in Stalinist Russia before the Second World War, so the program material he selected has special meaning for him.

Soviet Russian conductor and violinist Rudolf Barshai transcribed the Chamber Symphony from the String Quartet No. 8 by Soviet composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Shostakovich wrote the Quartet in 1960 and dedicated it "To the Memory of Victims of War and Fascism." Today, of course, we may read into it, "victims of war, fascism, and Stalinist Communism." At the time, however, Shostakovich felt very depressed at being forced to join the Communist Party. Some musical historians say that the composer's personal despair is what gives the piece its edge, its pain, and its emotional depth.

The outer movements reflect a pensive solemnity and gloom, while the inner movements project an intense fierceness and anxiety. Certainly, Orbelian emphasizes the work's subjective aspects throughout, painting a vivid, harsh, even brutal picture of dark times, unrelieved by any happy or triumphant ending.

Constantine Orbelian
Following up the Chamber Symphony with Alfred Schnittke's Piano Concerto, performed by Orbelian himself on piano, works as the mitigation we seek after the stormy despondency of Shostakovich. Built as a series of variations that come and go, some of them religious in nature, the Piano Concerto produces the effect of mild spiritual elation and inner questions and answers by its end.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra recorded both pieces on the vast sound stage of Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, CA, March, 2000. Delos recording engineer John Eargle miked the works for later mastering to discrete surround sound, but he optimized the present recording for Dolby Pro-Logic playback or ordinary two-channel stereo.

The sound is quite large, possibly because of the size of the venue, moderately distanced as always from this source, and again only moderately well detailed. At first, the sound appears somewhat dark and muted, but in the Piano Concerto especially, one can hear the notes die away smoothly in the extreme high frequencies. Perhaps it's that there is a degree of density about the sonics that makes everything seem a touch less transparent than it could be. It is not an unrealistic sound, however; in fact, it's the sound one can hear in most auditoriums around the world. It just isn't what we hear too often on disc, and it comes as a pleasant surprise. As far as concerns the surround element, it does not emerge as a serious consideration one way or the other in the two-channel format to which I listened. There is a agreeable ambient bloom that does fair justice to the music. And it is the music that counts.

Of its kind, the program is powerful, and Orbelian and his forces play it with urgency.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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 John 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 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.

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.

Contact Information

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

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa