Also, Borodin: Symphony No. 2. Kiril Kondrashin, Concertgebouw Orchestra. Philips 475 7570.
Recorded in 1979, Kondrashin's performance of Scheherazade is one of my favorites in this work, the others coming from Reiner (RCA or JVC), Haitink (Philips), and Beecham (EMI), with Kletzki (on a hard-to-find EMI Eminence) and Mackerras (Telarc) not far behind. This Philips Kondrashin disc also marks the fourth incarnation of the recording I've owned: one LP and three CD's. I'm not sure I didn't like it best on LP, but this 96kHz/24-bit Philips "Originals" release is undoubtedly the best-sounding of the Kondrashin CD's.
Kondrashin's way with the work is big, robust, and energetic, yet even-tempered, too, the conductor filling out all the varied contrasts in the work from soft to loud, serene to bombastic, in equal measure. It is probably the best all-around interpretation one can find, even if it doesn't score high in any single area. For instance, I think Haitink beats him in poetic beauty; Beecham beats him in sparkle and charm; and Reiner beats him in excitement and sonics (especially in the audiophile-quality JVC XRCD edition). But there is no discounting Kondrashin's reasoned, rational, levelheaded approach to the music. This, incidentally, is in contrast to Valery Gergiev's more-recent Kiev recording (also on Philips), which I found too erratic. Kondrashin makes the four movements of the piece more of a whole, the entire work hanging together better as a single composition rather than appearing like a series of unrelated tone poems.
I wish I could say the same thing of the coupling, though, the Borodin Second Symphony, which Kondrashin recorded a year later in 1980 with the Concertgebouw. It seems as though it's more in the Gergiev Scheherazade style, rather too boisterous and mercurial for my taste. But, then, I'm used to the refined, yet stimulating Borodin Second Symphony recording made years ago by Jean Martinon for Decca.
On the Rimsky-Korsakov tracks, the sound of this 2006 reissue at first didn't seem any different to me than my oldest of Kondrashin CD recording; then, after numerous comparisons, instantly switching back and forth between two CD players, I began to detect a couple of minor things: The 24-bit edition (originally remastered in 2001 and here appearing for the second time) is subtly smoother and maybe, just maybe, a touch more dynamic. Nevertheless, the differences are so small that I couldn't really recommend the disc to people who already own either of the earlier versions. This newest edition is still lush, plush, and as radiant than ever, and it will not disappoint many listeners. The Borodin, recorded live, is brighter and noisier than the Rimsky-Korsakov, with more of a small background hiss noticeable at times. I'd buy it for the Scheherazade music foremost.
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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