Summer in the Park (CD review)

Various selections, conductors, and orchestras. EMI 50999 0 82658 2 1.

Bits and pieces. In this case, the disc contains "summertime" music, culled from EMI's vast back catalogue of stereo material. I'm never sure how to approach these kinds of discs, collections of short works, in this case fifteen selections. It's not really something most serious classical-music fans might sit down and listen to, since everything is incomplete--a movement here, a movement there.  Maybe as background music. Maybe as music for the car. Or maybe, just maybe, as a sampling of what's out there in longer form. Because all of the tracks on the disc come from well-known conductors and orchestras, it may be a good chance to hear something you might want to buy complete. Or, who knows, maybe among all the bits and pieces, there's something you've never heard before, something to explore in greater depth. In any case, the music, brief and fragmented as it may be, is enjoyable.

EMI's jewel box describes the program saying, "Summer is the season of music--from the chirping of birds to the buzzing of flies, the rushing river to the rustling of flowers in the breeze, that infinite stillness that hangs in the air as the sun sets behind the trees. This collection of timeless recordings celebrates the sounds of those hot summer days and cool summer nights."

I won't try to comment on everything; let me just list the items on the disc and then point out the ones I enjoyed most.

Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite - Sunrise (Slatkin, Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra)
Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann - Barcarolle (Marriner, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart)
Handel: Water Music - Suite No. 1 - Bourre (Linde, Linde Consort)
Debussy: Petite Suite - En bateau (Pommier, Northern Sinfonia)
Chopin: Waltz No. 6 "Minute" (Fliter, piano)
Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker - Waltz of the Flowers (Previn, London Symphony Orchestra)
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition - Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks (Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic)
Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals - The Swan (Chang, cello; Brewer, harp)
Bizet: Jeux d-enfants - No. 1 Marche (Jarvi, Orchestre de Paris)
Elgar: Salut d'amour (Hickox, Northern Sinfonia of England)
Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A - Allegro (Meyer, clarinet; Wiener Strechsextett)
Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 3 - Air (Ledger, English Chamber Orchestra)
Delius: Summer Evening (Hickox, Northern Sinfonia of England)
Stravinsky: L'Oiseau de feu - Disappearance of the Palace (Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra)
Part: Spiegel im Spiegel (Little, violin; Roscoe, piano)

I liked the Linde Consort in the Handel number for its full, spirited approach to the music. The Debussy moves along lightly and gently under Pommier. Pianist Ingrid Fliter plays the little Chopin waltz with dazzling but expressive technique. I've always thought Previn's Tchaikovsky ballet music was among the best available, and his Nutcracker excerpt reinforces that opinion, the piece also being among the best recorded in the collection. The Mozart Clarinet Quintet with Sabine Meyer is charming, as is the Bach Air with Ledger and the English Chamber Orchestra. Finally, Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel fairly floats across the sound stage and makes a fitting conclusion for the tranquil mood of the program.

EMI recorded most of the sound between the 1960's and the present (or 2008), and it lives up to the company's high sonic standards. However, the opening number, Sunrise from Ferde Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite with Leonard Slatkin and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, one the oldest recordings on the disc, is rather dull and hollow by comparison to the other selections. The rest of the items display commendable transparency, clean highs, maybe not the deepest but adequate bass, and fine orchestral depth and breadth, with Marriner's Stuttgart Offenbach, Rattle's City of Birmingham Stravinsky, and Previn's LSO Tchaikovsky standing out for their sonic quality.

This 2011 release, Summer in the Park, is the fourth in a series of similarly themed collections from EMI, the first three being Autumn in the Park, Springtime in the Park, and Christmas in the Park.

JJP

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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa