Herold-Lanchbery: La Fille Mal Gardee (XRCD review)

John Lanchbery, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. LIM XR24 013.

La Fille Mal Gardee is a rustic ballet originally produced around the end of the eighteen century (1789), based on a number of folk tunes and subsequently arranged in any number of different versions. The one we have here was put together around 1960 by John Lanchbery, based on an 1828 arrangement by Ferdinand Herold (of Zampa fame). The music tells the story of a comically difficult romance between a farmer's daughter and her lover, complicated by the appearance of a young dunce favored by the girl's mother. The music is lively, earthy, sometimes unpolished, but always entertaining. Lanchbery's direction of the Covent Garden Orchestra is equally lively, never unpolished, and certainly entertaining. In fact, I can't imagine hearing the music played any other way.

This 1962 Decca release, remastered by LIM (Lasting Impression Music, a part of producer Winston Ma's FIM, First Impression Music group) in JVC's 24-bit XRCD super-analogue process, is the fifth incarnation of the recording I've owned over the years. I started with a London LP, moved up to a Decca LP when I was able to obtain it, then the regular CD from Decca, followed by a gold CD from Classic Compact Discs, and now this LIM edition. With each succeeding release, I have heard very minor but distinct improvements in sound.

For this review I first listened straight through the new remaster and found it impressive, indeed. Then I A/B compared it to the gold edition, and I was further impressed. The music has a very wide stereo spread and fairly good orchestral depth in both versions, but the LIM is noticeably fuller, smoother, more dynamic, and better focused. By contrast, the gold CD is a tiny bit harder and leaner. The LIM gives the impression of a bigger, more dramatic, more realistic recording. But if I had to single out any one area of improvement in the LIM, it would be focus. It is as though you were looking through the viewfinder of a camera and adjusting it just so in order to obtain a marginally clearer picture. It's not a night-and-day difference, mind you--nothing is--but you'll hear it, especially in the massed strings and percussion. Depending upon your playback equipment, you may even be bowled over by it. For a recording made in 1962, La Fille Mal Gardee sounds better than 99% of the classical albums being made today.

Of course, you pay a price for improvement, and the price may not be commensurate with the small differences you'll hear. I'd like to say you can get the FIM, LIM, or JVC XRCDs at a budget price, but you can't. They are premium-priced products for the discriminating audiophile. For ultraprecise XRCD/24 processing and the like, you pay through the nose, usually twice the cost of a full-priced CD, and in return you get subtle but often discernible improvements in sound. In the case of this LIM remastering, you also get a clothbound album cover, plastic insert pages, and a static-resistant disc sleeve. If none of this interests you, you can always buy the regular Decca CD release (because the gold edition is no longer available and would cost as much as the XRCD in any case).


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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