Paganini: Violin Concerto (CD review)

Also, Tchaikovsky: Serenade melancolique; Valse-Scherzo. Midori, violin; Leonard Slatkin, London Symphony Orchestra. Newton Classics 8802028.

You remember Midori, the young teenage violinist whose exceptional skills made such a name for her. Yeah, well, that was over two decades ago. Amazing how time flies by.  Now, Newton Classics has re-released one of the recordings that made her famous, from 1987 the Paganini Violin Concerto, and we can marvel once again at her command of the instrument. Of course, in the past twenty years about 800 other child prodigies have come and gone, and, indeed, one may wonder what's become of Midori Goto. Fortunately, her Web site (http://www.gotomidori.com) indicates she is alive and well and continues to perform up a storm all over the world.

Anyway, what we've got here is a work that matches her talents. Italian violinist, guitarist, and composer Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) wrote his Violin Concerto No. 1 in D, Op. 6, between 1815 and 1818 (the exact date remains unclear), largely as a showpiece for his own virtuosic prowess, so it's filled with a wealth of showy details that have dazzled audiences over the years. There has been some question about the principal tonality of the piece as well as the instrumentation, the composer having apparently written the solo and orchestral parts in different keys, with varying orchestral support, resulting in what appeared to listeners of his day as musical legerdemain. Midori plays the more-commonly accepted arrangement of the work.

Leonard Slatkin and the London Symphony adopt a quick-paced gait for the introduction, all the better, perhaps, to highlight Midori's often blazing technique. Yet for all her sparkling fluency, she is a sensitive interpreter, and it is the lighter, more-lilting sections of the score that she illuminates best.  OK, so the cadenza seems to go on forever; it's a minor quibble. There is a subtle and appropriate melancholy that underlines Midori's playing of the Adagio, and the concluding Rondo has almost all the bouncy good cheer it demands.

Of the accompanying works, the booklet notes remind us that although Tchaikovsky only concerned himself with solo violin music for a short time during the 1870's, he left us with several fine examples of the genre. He wrote the Serenade melancolique in 1875 for the violinist Leopold Auer. It's a brief, slow piece that Midori plays with a passionate longing. The final work on the disc is the Valse-Scherzo, as much a showpiece as the Paganini, again demonstrating what Midori can do with a violin.

Recorded by Philips in May of 1987, the sound is nicely open and full, with a splendid ambient bloom on all the instruments. The recording tends slightly to emphasize the left and right sections of the orchestra, it's true, yet it's not enough to distract one's attention. When the violin enters, it appears properly centered, and we tend to understand why the audio engineers decided to divide the orchestra somewhat behind her. The violin itself is well balanced with the sound of the other instruments and displays a brilliant, natural shimmer. While the engineers could have captured a little more dynamic range and a deeper bass, the sound is realistic enough to please most listeners.

I have to admit I still enjoy the Paganini recordings of Michael Rabin (EMI), Itzhak Perlman (EMI), and Hilary Hahn (DG) best for their greater dash and sparkle, but there is certainly a place for this reissue of Midori's account in any fan's collection.

JJP

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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.

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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