Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings (CD review)

Also, Grieg: Holberg Suite; Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Yuri Simonov, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Royal Philharmonic Masterworks Audiophile Collection. Sheridan Square/Allegro RPM 28190.

Listeners have always enjoyed short orchestral suites and serenades, and such pieces are especially felicitous when they come from composers like Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and Mozart. This disc presents three of their most-popular short works from one of the world's great orchestras in audiophile-quality sound. Seems like a sure thing.

The album begins with Peter Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings (1880), a four-movement piece that Maestro Yuri Simonov offers up in the most-romantic terms. He draws out the lush textures of the work, his players seeming to relish the rich cadences and well-upholstered phrases. The melodies, which never appear to end, flow along in balletic fashion and sound quite fresh from such a large ensemble. Some critics may consider this "light" music, but it surely takes on a weighty quality under Simonov--weighty yet delicate at the same time.

Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's Holberg Suite (1884) celebrated the bicentennial of writer and historian Ludvig Holberg, born in Norway in 1684. The Suite is kind of an old-fashioned set of dances based on Barque models, and Grieg was never too happy with it. The Royal Philharmonic seem a bit pared down for it, and Simonov treats it perhaps more reverentially than he could. Nevertheless, it also comes off well, again with a sweet rhythmic pulse right up to the swirling rustic finish.

Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik (1787) has featured in so many movies and TV shows, it must be among the most-recognizable music in the world. My only concern here is the RPO sound too big by half for "a little night music," which might have benefited from a smaller group of players. Despite this, Simonov conducts it with elegance and grace. While I am not sure it's entirely what Mozart had in mind, it's certainly a cushy, comfortable reading.

Recorded in 2007 and released in 2010, the sonics are big, wide, and warm, miked at a moderate distance for a full concert-house effect. Although you don't get some of the ultimate transparency of a more closely miked recording, you do get the compensating factors of naturalness, realism, and sense of place. The frequency response is fairly wide and well balanced, and stage depth is more than adequate. The jewel box tells us that this is a "20 bit digital recording, edited and mastered via 32 bit digital sound processing, recorded in high definition and playable on all CD players," but I'd forget all that and simply enjoy the music.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa