Espana (CD review)

Rimsky-Korsakov:  Capriccio Espagnol; Granados:  Andaluza, Danza Espanola No. 5; Chabrier:  Espana; Moszkowski:  Five Spanish Dances.  Ataulfo Argenta, London Symphony Orchestra.  LIM XR24 016.

Originally recorded by Decca in 1956, this classic album, "Espana," with conductor Ataulfo Argenta has the distinction of being one of the best collections of Spanish-inflected music ever produced.  Yet, of the four composers represented, only one is actually Spanish.  No matter.  You don't have to be American to enjoy a hot dog.  The Russian, German, and French composers do just as well by the music as the Spaniard.

Things begin with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, a lively, colorful piece that has seen hundreds of interpretations but none quite so affecting as this one.  On a rival XRCD from JVC, Kiril Kondrashin directs a more flamboyant, more purely exciting account, but Argenta imbues the music with an enjoyably relaxed tone.  Not that the big, dramatic moments don't come to the fore under Argenta; they do.  But he captures the lighter, more reflective interludes as well.  Following the Capriccio is Enrique Granados's brief Andaluza, Danza Espanola No. 5, which comes almost as a lullaby after Rimsky-Korsakov's more-explosive, more-ornate work.  Then there is probably the most-famous piece of Spanish music ever written, Espana, by the Frenchman Emmanuel Chabrier.  No complaints here; Argenta's reading is one of the two or three best, most evocative available, and, ironically, the best recorded.  Finally, there are Five Spanish Dances by Moritz Moszkowski, all of them quite lovingly executed by Argenta.

This particular album has been a showpiece for hi-fi systems since the earliest days of stereo, and the last time I recommended it (about a dozen years ago in the $ensible Sound magazine), it had been remastered on a gold disc by Classic Compact Discs.  It sounded very, very good, and now LIM (Lasting Impression Music, the Decca remastering arm of producer Winston Ma's First Impression Music) have given it the ultimate treatment in XRCD 24-bit processing.  In a direct comparison of the XRCD with the gold disc, I found small but noticeable improvements in the XRCD's handling of mid-to-upper bass, resulting in a warmer, smoother, and, most importantly, fuller sound.  The gold disc seemed a tad lean to me by comparison, and a touch edgier.  Not that the gold presentation isn't still a great-sounding disc; it's just that the XRCD appears to my ears to be slightly richer and more realistic.  I suppose one could argue about which disc produces the widest dynamic range and the strongest impact, but these are areas too close for me call.

In any case, the Classic Compact gold disc is no longer available, so the point is moot unless you already own it.  If you like this music and you like this album, you can't beat the LIM XRCD remastering of it.  Just be sure you have the deep pockets to pay for it, because it will cost you as much as any gold disc ever would.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical 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 I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
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.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa