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Notes of an Amateur: First Quarter, 2021

04-08-2021 | By Bob Neill | Issue 114

Complete Peter Serkin. Sony 19439713872. 30 CD's.

If Serkin is one of your very favorite pianists, as he is one of  mine, then this is a treasure trove for you. Thirty CDs for under $100. Includes both solo recordings and work with TASHI. Steal of the year.


Joseph Haydn, String Quartets, Op. 76, 4-6. Chiaroscuro Quartet. Bis 2358 SACD

The four fine musicians (from four different countries) of the much admired Chiaroscuro Quartet, starring violinist Alina Ibragimova, with another installment of their continuing magic. Lean, naturally clear, and eloquent. Both this album and the one below address our inherited idea that because Haydn is 'the center' of especially the eighteenth and century classical tradition, his music must be warm, full, and deliberate. It's our way of ignoring that the eighteenth century is not the the nineteenth. Actually, in some ways, it's closer to the twentieth. That Chiaroscuro and Giardino Armonico are of course not the first to challenge the conventional idea by playing him this way. But they are among the very best at it. They don't sound at all eccentric or self-consciously historical. Just convincing.

Haydn 2032: No. 9. L'Addio. Giovanni Ant0nini, Il Giardino Armonico. Alpha Classics Apha 684. 

This is the Haydn that inspired Mozart and ultimately Beethoven as well. Very brisk on first hearing, then perfect and more full of life than any I know of, including Roy Goodman's that's been my favorite for years. Leave it to the Italians, especially these. This is the latest release in a new complete edition of Haydn's symphonies. 

Charles Ives, Complete Symphonies. Los Angeles Symphony, Gustavo. Dudamel. DGG Boo33369.

Ives is both over- and under-rated. Sometimes he seems like hodgepodge lodge, sometimes like an overture to a Broadway musical, sometimes like Dvorak's American cousin, but also sometimes like a wonderfully eloquent nineteenth century romantic composer with a vigorous modern twist. Dudamel gets the best of all of this, capturing its romantic core, leaving this listener more pleased with the composer than he's ever been.


Live at Blues Alley. Eva Cassidy. Blix Street Records. G2 10046.

A 25-year old release that I just came upon, having seen a video special HERE. Her musicians are as good as she is, which is say a LOT. Find it if you can, I got my used via Amazon.


Systems used for this audition: Resolution Audio Cantata 3.0 CD player w/BlackJack power cord; Gilbert Yeung Design solid-state NSI "G" integrated amplifier with Jean Marie Reynaud Voce Grande loudspeakers; Audio Note Tonmeister Meishu Silver Signature integrated 300B tube amplifier with Audio Note K/SPx SE loudspeakers; Crimson interconnects and speaker cable;  Audio Note SPx speaker cable. Mapleshade Samson equipment rack.

Bob Neill, a former equipment reviewer for Enjoy the Music and Positive Feedback, is proprietor of Amherst Audio in Western Massachusetts which sells equipment from Audio