Anna Netrebko, soprano; Daniel Barenboim, piano. DG 477 8867.
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is one of today's reigning stars of the opera world. She certainly must be doing something right because this current album of largely Russian songs, In the Still of Night, marks something like the twentieth-plus compact disc the folks at DG have released of her singing. Not only that, she has celebrated pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim accompanying her.
What's even more, DG have given the album a most royal treatment. The single disc comes housed not in an ordinary jewel box but in a special, superdeluxe CD book, with a fifty-odd page insert bound between hard covers, the disc itself sliding into a stiff cardboard sleeve attached near the rear of the case. The package is the size and thickness of a regular CD jewel box but is much more elaborate. And more costly.
In the recital, Ms. Netrebko sings primarily songs by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1900) and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), twenty of them altogether. Then, to conclude the program, she sings two encores, Antonin Dvorak's Songs My Mother Taught Me, Op. 55, No. 4, and Richard Strauss's Cacilie, Op. 27, No. 2. The complete album lasts well over an hour.
As always, Ms. Netrebko sings radiantly, elegantly, investing each song with an appropriate degree of intensity, drama, and passion. Yet there is an extra poignancy, too, in the songs themselves. They have a bittersweet character about them, Ms. Netrebko explaining that they represent the Russian soul, which knows melancholy. Certainly, Daniel Barenboim accompanies her most eloquently on piano, the two of them making a fine team effort of the works. This is music of high Romanticism, and the performers' attitudes and performances reflect the generally high quality of the pieces.
DG recorded the recital live at the Salzburg Festival in August, 2009, where by all accounts Netrebko and Barenboim were smash hits. The audio engineers place the piano and voice somewhat to the left of center, which may help replicate the live experience but seems a little disconcerting for home listening. The voice rings true, with little or no edge or hardness, while the piano exhibits a pleasantly resonant bloom, also representative of a live performance. The audience, in the meantime, behaves itself, remaining fairly quiet during the songs (indeed, seemingly giving the performers their rapt attention), although their applause after every piece becomes a bit disruptive and annoying after a while.
The extensive booklet, by the way, contains black-and-white and color pictures of the Salzburg event and its participants, several essays on the music and composers involved, an interview with Ms. Netrebko, and the full text of each of the songs. As I say, it's an extraordinarily fancy affair.
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.
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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