Gandolfi: The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (SACD review)

Robert Spano, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  Telarc SACD-60696.

If you can get by the pretentious, New Age-sounding title, you may find composer Michael Gandolfi's music interesting in a fragmented sort of way.  Gandolfi found his inspiration in a real-life Scottish garden that tries to represent the newest scientific theories about the mysteries of the universe in its flowers, hills, and terraces:  the Big Bang, superstring theory, wave theory, subatomic particles, DNA, etc.  What Gandolfi does is attempt to transpose those visual symbols into aural, musical ones.  The result is a mixed bag, to say the least.

Like the garden, which is ever changing, the music is in segments that can be rearranged, added to, or subtracted from however its performers decide.  In the case of the present disc, a world-première recording, conductor Robert Spano chose to offer up a three-movement suite of sixteen sections, with names like "The Zeroroom," "Soliton Waves," "The Snail and the Poetics of Going Slow," "The Universe Cascade," "The Garden of Senses," "Fractal Terrace," "The quark Walk," and other such descriptive monikers.

The problem is that apart from each piece of music trying its best to represent some esoteric theory of physics, the whole thing reminded me of the soundtrack to Disney's old movie, "The Black Hole."  Not that that's bad, you understand.  There is a lot of fascinating music here, in styles that range everywhere from ninth-century chants through Bach to Steve Reich to modern cacophony.  And it begins and ends where every good garden should begin and end, with the sounds of birds gaily tootling in the distance.  I suppose we're to take it all seriously, but I couldn't help finding it more than a bit whimsical.

Telarc sent me two discs to review, this hybrid SACD and a regular CD edition, so I had a chance to play the SACD two-channel layer and the regular CD two-channel version side-by-side in separate machines for instant comparisons.  I confess I could hear little or no difference through my bi-amped VMPS RM40 speakers.  Perhaps the SACD sounded a tad more open and dynamic, but it might simply have been my imagination.  In any case, if you have a 5.1 channel setup, you'll get the benefit of the SACD's multichannel playback.  What's more, no matter which layer you play, you'll get some pretty decent and typically "Telarc" sound, with good imaging, good impact, good stereo spread, and good midrange clarity.  So, the disc offers some unusual if somewhat lightweight music in pleasant, modern digital sound.


No comments:

Post a Comment

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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

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