Schumann: Cello Concerto (SACD review)

Also, Lalo and Saint-Saens Cello Concertos. Janos Starker, cello; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Antal Dorati, London Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 475 6621.

You want a great soloist and a great orchestra to produce a great performance, and you want the engineers to capture it in great sound. It doesn't happen very often, but in the case of the three cello concertos on this Mercury SACD, recorded in 1962 and 1964, all the elements come together perfectly.

I've always thought of Janos Starker's cello playing as somehow very masculine. Maybe it's because of his no-nonsense approach to interpreting the music; maybe it's his direct, straightforward, well-controlled style; or maybe it's just his name that influences my perception of him, his technique unadorned by frivolous mannerisms or lightweight sentimentality. In any case, he is superb in the Schumann Concerto, strong and authoritative in the big, extrovert parts, yet sensitive in the more lyrical sections. The reading doesn't entirely displace those of Ma (Sony), Harrell (Decca), or Rostropovich (EMI), but it's right up there with them, and when you consider the excellence of the accompanying two concertos from Lalo and, especially, from Saint-Saens, the combination makes the album a tempting buy.

Now, throw in Mercury's superb sonics. I don't know if the disc sounds this good on all systems or if it just thoroughly complements my VMPS RM40 speakers, but all three works come across sounding as good as anything you'll find on disc today. The cello is a touch close, to be sure, but it's a natural kind of closeness, given the depth and breadth of the orchestral field behind it. No metallic edge, either, just a smooth realism to the sound of all the instruments in impeccable clarity.

The Mercury engineers reproduce the performances in SACD three-channel stereo and SACD two-channel stereo on one high-density layer of the disc and in standard two-channel stereo on another layer, the hybrid CD playing back on either an SACD or standard CD machine.


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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