Also, Stone Flower suite; Dreams; Andante, Op. 50; Autumnal, Op. 8. Neeme Jarvi, Scottish National Orchestra. Chandos CHAN 10481-X.
Every line is in place, every "i" dotted. Maestro Neeme Jarvi conducts a letter-perfect performance, and the Scottish National Orchestra play with a precision that would make the Berlin Philharmonic jealous. So, why does this Lieutenant Kije suite sound so dull?
It's certainly not the fault of Russian composer Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953), who pulled off a popular coup by satirizing governmental bureaucracy at a time, 1934, when the Soviet government was not exactly friendly to anything but conservative, state-approved music. Prokofiev accepted an invitation to write the score for a movie, Alexander Feinzimmer's Lieutenant Kije, based on a satirical story by Yuri Tinyanov. The story takes place during the reign of the nineteenth-century Czar Paul, who had a rage for military pomp and ceremony. The Czar mistakenly overhears a phrase that he thinks sounds like "Lieutenant Kije," and his underlings are afraid to tell him otherwise. So they create a fictional Kije, duly enter him into the military records, and create a career of adventures for him. Thus, we get the suite the composer adapted from his film score.
The music can be wonderfully witty and mischievous, yet here it seems hampered, toned down, and it appears to be Jarvi's interpretation that is at fault. It is rather slow, solemn, and listless, missing some of the music's edgy humor and punch.
Fortunately, the accompanying works, particularly the suite from Prokofiev's ballet The Stone Flower, come off much better, the conductor's sensitivity completely at the disposal of the music. And with fine, vintage Chandos sound, the rest of the items on the program--Prokofiev's Dreams, the Andante, Op. 50, and Autumnal, Op. 8--go over smoothly and agreeably as well, if sometimes taken a bit hastily.
Recorded in 1985 and 1989 and here presented in a rerelease, the sound is wide and spacious, with an especially good sense of orchestral depth. While it perhaps lacks a little something in terms of inner detailing and deep bass response, it's surely good in all other respects.
The problem with the album, then, is the centerpiece, Lieutenant Kije, which I wouldn't call a first-choice recording of the work. For top recommendations you'd have to go to musicians like George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (Sony), Vernon Handley and the LPO (EMI), Andre Previn and the LSO (EMI), or maybe Fritz Reiner and Chicago Symphony (RCA). But at a reduced reissue price and with good accompanying performances, the Jarvi disc is certainly worth auditioning.
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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