Delibes: Coppelia, complete (CD review)

Also, Minkus: Don Quixote (highlights).  Jean-Baptiste Mari, Orchestre du Theatre National de l'Opera de Paris (Delibes); John Lanchbery, Elizabethan Trust Melbourne Orchestra (Minkus).  EMI 50999 9 67723-2 (two-disc set).

Leo Delibes (1836-1891) wrote the rather bizarre Coppelia in 1870, but it is so filled with wonderful melodies that it has been a mainstay of the international ballet repertoire ever since. Its plot involves a shadowy and slightly sinister character named Dr. Coppelius, who fashions a life-sized dancing doll so realistic that a young man, Frantz, about to be married, falls in love with it. You can see the possibilities for fanciful music, and Delibes exploits them to good effect. Coppelia is practically one long, hundred-odd-minute string of greatest hits, the music is so charming and familiar.

The 1977 recording we have here by conductor Jean-Baptiste Mari and the Orchestra of the Paris National Opera Theater is among the best, maybe the absolute best, ever made of it. Mari's interpretation is elegant and refined, but it in no way diminishes the robust energy of the work. Indeed, he enhances the long, graceful curves of the music, while providing all the beauty, mystery, and excitement it requires.

But here's the thing: When this complete recording of the score appeared on the scene in the late Seventies, I had a hard time finding it. Instead, what I eventually found was a two-disc set of lengthy excerpts from Mari's recording of Coppelia and his recording of Delibes's Sylvia, one disc devoted to each ballet. This wasn't such a bad thing, since there is much in the complete scores of both works that is redundant, and like Adam's Giselle, a little pruning helps. In fact, I doubt that anyone but a Delibes fanatic could tell what was deleted in the highlights discs. Nevertheless, it is nice now to have Coppelia so readily available in its unedited form.

Accompanying Coppelia is the ballet Don Quixote by one of Delibes's contemporaries, Ludwig Minkus (1827-1890). It's a more-conventional piece of music, here presented in highlights performed by John Lanchbery (who also adapted this particular arrangement) and the Elizabethan Trust Melbourne Orchestra in a 1972 recording. While it is still an enjoyable, melodic work, it hasn't nearly the endless stream of great tunes we find in Coppelia; so it comes as something of a filler rather than a competitor to the Delibes piece.

Although EMI recorded this music in the Seventies, they remastered the present set in 2009. Compared to their earlier mastering of Coppelia, this new one is marginally smoother and cleaner, with a touch less edge to the high end. In either case, the sound is quite fine, with a pleasant ambient bloom, a good degree of orchestral depth, and plenty of dynamic range. Perhaps the engineers could have picked up a bit more of the deep bass response, but it hardly matters in music so enchanting as this.


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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 more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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.

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