Paul Dombrecht, Il Fondamento. Fuga Libera FUG580 (2-CD set).
German organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote a prodigious amount of material, but, surprisingly, only four orchestral suites, a French-influenced Baroque form much favored in his day. Recent research reveals that Bach wrote the four suites (or "overtures" as people sometimes call them, referring to their elaborate opening movements) during the years 1716-1723, later revising them between 1725-1739 in the arrangements we know best today.
I mention these revisions because conductor Paul Dombrecht takes a slightly different approach to the suites than other conductors do. There are about sixteen players involved in the performances, but the recording makes the ensemble sound a lot bigger, despite the fact that Il Fondamento play the suites in their original form without trumpet or timpani in Nos. 3 and 4 and a solo violin replacing the flute in No. 2. The composer appears to have added the other instruments later for reasons of greater pomp, ceremony, or solemnity. The music sounds fine without the later augmentations, if anything a tad more transparent than usual, although I confess I do miss the timpani.
Maestro Dombrecht founded Il Fondamento in 1989, he and his players dedicated to historical instruments and music practices of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are, of course, any number of period-instrument recordings that one might also enjoy, including those from the English Concert, the Academy of Ancient Music, Le Petite Bande, Boston Baroque, Amsterdam Baroque, and the like; however, the recording this one reminds me of most is that of Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations on the Astree label, at least in terms of playing style, if not in the distribution of instruments.
Starting with the Overture of Suite No. 1, we can see where this music-making is going. It can be stately and sedate one minute and sprightly and spirited the next. This was Bach's intention, of course, to contrast fast and slow movements, and slow and fast sections within movements, throughout the pieces. Suite No. 3, probably the most popular for its famous Air, shows Il Fondamento to best advantage, stylish and elegant.
The recording, made in 2010 at the Chapel of the Cloister of the Sisters of St. Vincentius a Paulo, comes up well, making, as I said earlier, the ensemble sound bigger than the relatively few players participating. Still, despite the big sound, the separate instruments stand out nicely, with each soloist given his or her fair share of distinct individuality, the group as a whole displaying plenty of clarity and air. The miking is close enough to capture a lifelike texture and presence yet distant enough to show off the resonant acoustic of the chapel.
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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