Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (SACD review)

Also, Ravel: Mother Goose; Koechlin: Les Bandar-log. Marc Albrecht, Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra. PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 336.

Many people are no doubt more familiar with L'Apprenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) through Disney's 1940 animated feature Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse in the lead, than from the concert hall or record albums. But  Paul Dukas (1865-1935) wrote the piece in 1897, long before Disney used it. He wrote it as a cautionary tale about a young apprentice magician who gets into trouble trying to use too much wizardry he doesn't know how to handle. In the present recording, maestro Marc Albrecht and his Strasbourg players work up a good head of steam by the time they finish this highly programmatic music.

The centerpiece of the album, though, is Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). Ravel began Mother Goose in 1910 as a collection of five solo piano pieces, but when impresario Sergei Diaghilev asked him to write a new ballet, Ravel jumped at the chance of orchestrating his piano pieces and adding some connecting material, by the next year turning it into the ballet we know and love.

By the time Ravel completed Mother Goose, he had written seven major parts, each involving a beloved fairy tale: "Prelude," "The Dance of the Spinning Wheel," "The Pavane of Sleeping Beauty in the Woods," "Beauty and the Beast," "Tom Thumb," "Laideronett, Empress of the Pagodas," and "The Enchanted Garden." Although there are a number of good recordings of the ballet, including my favorites from Jean Martinon (EMI), Charles Dutoit (Decca), and Geoffrey Simon (Cala), Albrecht's rendition is most welcome, if only because Pentatone did such a good job recording it. But beyond the good sound, Albrecht does a fine job provocatively introducing and creatively developing each section, adding charm and excitement where necessary in a mostly dreamy, pastel-tinted performance. He handles the two concluding segments particularly well: "The Empress of the Pagodas" and "The Enchanted Garden," which he positively drenches in color and atmosphere.

The final work on the disc is Les Bandar-log, a portion of The Jungle Book by Charles Koechlin (1867-1950), inspired by Rudyard Kipling's celebrated novel. Here, we get the part where Mowgli has an adventure with a group of rascally monkeys ("bandar-log" is Hindi for monkey, and Kipling sets The Jungle Book in India where they speak Hindi). Although Albrecht takes his time with the introductory elements of the piece, he builds the music slowly, smoothly, and deliberately, providing a suitable mood for the later hijinks, with plenty of dramatic pauses, the silences themselves almost as effective as the sounds of the music. What's more the PentaTone audio engineers deliver some impressive bass support. Taking a cue from Prokofiev in Peter and the Wolf, Koechlin uses different instruments of the orchestra to represent different animals, and like Dukas's piece that opens the album, Les Bandar-log is playful and happy, bringing great delight to anyone listening.

PentaTone recorded the music on this 2010 release in late 2008 and present it on a hybrid Super Analogue Compact Disc that a person can play back in multichannel or stereo on an SACD player or in stereo only on a regular CD player. I played back the stereo layers on both a regular and an SACD player but not in multichannel. I noticed a slightly brighter sound from the SACD player, but that may have more a result of the player than the disc transfer. In any case, the sound is quite good, with wide dynamics; quick transients; strong, taut percussive effects; and more than adequate stage depth. The engineers did mike the proceedings fairly closely, with a degree of multi-miking evident, but it results in a clean, clear midrange transparency. In all, the music is fun, the performances colorful, and the sound topflight.


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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