Garofalo: Romantic Symphony (CD review)

Also, Violin Concerto. Sergei Standler, violin; Joel Spiegelman, New Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.570877.

People didn't just neglect the music of Italian organist and composer Carlo Giorgio Garofalo (1886-1962) in his own lifetime, practically nobody knows him even today. He wrote a ton of sacred compositions, heard in churches and cathedrals throughout Italy in his time but hardly anywhere outside the country and hardly anywhere, period, since. He also wrote quite a lot of secular works as well, like the two pieces on this album, most of them never getting performed, let alone recorded. The present disc aims to help rectify that situation.

Garofalo's Violin Concerto sounds like something written in the nineteenth rather than the twentieth century. It's a throwback to Mendelssohn and Brahms, but without quite the melodic sweep. There is no wonder that either the composer or his publishers probably didn't think the public wanted more of the same when most other composers were pursuing new directions in music. Still, there is a power and grandeur about the Concerto's first movement, and a gypsy feel at times as well. However, while it is charming, to be sure, it's nothing you can fully pin down or grab onto, kind of like elusive wisps of semi-familiar tunes. The same might be said of the serene Andante and the bouncy, up-tempo finale. You'd swear you've heard it all before, and then the thought, like the music, quickly fades from memory. Nevertheless, violinist Sergei Standler, maestro Joel Spiegelman, and the New Moscow Symphony Orchestra (an ensemble brought together in 1999 by the Modern Times Group of Sweden to enhance and support the Scandinavian broadcast company) try their best to do the music justice.

More important, perhaps, is Garofalo's Romantic Symphony, which Spiegelman resurrected and saved from oblivion in 1994 with only its second complete public performance. The first public performance had been almost eighty years earlier. On this disc we find the première recordings of both the Romantic Symphony and the Violin Concerto.

Anyway, the Symphony didn't get its "Romantic" title for nothing. It could well be something by Brahms or Bruckner, although unlike the work of those classic composers, Garofalo's piece is entertaining without being in any way profound or even particularly affecting, despite its vaguely nostalgic tone.

Previous to Spiegelman's championing of the Romantic Symphony, conductors would sometimes play only the Andante and Scherzo from the work. One can understand why. These movements are at the heart of the music, containing some of its most-memorable melodies. The Andante can be especially enchanting in a lush, spacious, highly emotional way. Indeed, the Andante is really the best part of the Symphony: lovely yet dramatic, never too light yet never taking itself too seriously, either (at least not under Spiegelman's direction). It has a haunting quality that makes a listener want to return to it again.

Furthermore, one can understand from listening to the Scherzo why his rival, Ottorino Respighi, may have tried to repress Garofalo's music. There are certain similar, descriptive, tone-poem characteristics to it that may have worried the more-famous composer. The Romantic Symphony ends by allowing every instrument of the orchestra to have its day in a rather melodramatic but gripping fashion, finishing up as it began, in the loftiest possible manner. This is big-scale music that isn't afraid to let it be known.

Originally recorded by MTG in 1999 and released on the Marco Polo label, the music now comes to us on a newly reissued, low-priced Naxos CD. The sound is squarely in the Naxos tradition, too, being perfectly serviceable, moderately distanced, with a somewhat soft overall response. Not that there is anything wrong with the dynamics, impact, or clarity; there's just nothing about the sonics that cries out as good enough to be audiophile material or bad enough not to be satisfying. In the Romantic Symphony in particular the acoustic setting is deeper and the sound more realistically spread out than in the Violin Concerto, although both works are pleasantly listenable.


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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