Maurizio Pollini, piano; Vienna Philharmonic. DG 00289 477 5795.
The relentless procession of live recordings from major record companies marches on. Ostensibly, the companies will tell you they do it to capture the spirit of the moment, the excitement of the live event. That's true, of course, but it's also a pretty good deal for them. Studio time can be expensive, especially when it involves a large symphony orchestra. So the company get an audience willing to pay high prices to listen to a concert, they tape the concert, and then they sell CDs of the concert for more high prices. The audience essentially underwrites the recording, and the recording companies can't lose.
Unfortunately, the buyers of the CDs lose a little something because they almost never get a recording that sounds as good as what might have been produced in a studio or in an empty hall. Here, we have the great pianist Maurizio Pollini playing two great Mozart concertos and conducting the great Vienna Philharmonic from the keyboard. It's a terrific combination except for the sound and the audience. DG engineers edited the performances from various concerts Pollini performed during May of 2005, and the background noise varies according to how quiet any given audience was at the time. So, we might hear a constant shuffling of feet during one movement or a wheezing during another or the turning of pages in another or what sounds like Pollini himself grunting or humming along with the music in several others. Then, at the very end, to ensure that we know it's a real live performance, we get an eruption of applause that pretty much destroys the mood of both works.
I'd say this is doubly unfortunate in the case of Pollini because he is one of the world's greatest living pianists, among the handful of best. And his Mozart is nothing short of brilliant, his playing the most fluid, the most graceful, the most effortless imaginable. I loved every musical moment of both concertos; I just didn't care for the nonmusical distractions. Well, at least DG had the good sense to record these things as close up as possible to minimize the audience noise, even if it tends to lessen the reality of the experience. Still, even the close-up miking didn't entirely help.
One other nonmusical distraction: Why must so many disc covers and booklet inserts constantly refer to musical compositions only by their catalogue numbers, these being K. 453 and K. 467, for instance? Do they expect all buyers and listeners to recognize concertos and symphonies by these catalogue numbers instead of their more-conventional chronological numbers? For those of you not familiar with the titles K. 453 and K. 467, they are also known as Concertos Nos. 17 and 21. Ah, No. 21, you say? Yes, that's the one with the familiar "Elvira Madigan" theme in the middle, isn't it? You wouldn't know it by the way this disc is packaged.
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 more than 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, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
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.
Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.
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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