Vivaldi & Friends (CD review)

La Folia (Madness) & other concertos. Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo's Fire Baroque Orchestra. Avie AV2211.

Harpsichordist and conductor Jeanette Sorrell formed the period-instruments orchestra Apollo's Fire in 1992 in order to create a new baroque orchestra in Cleveland. As the booklet note observes, "Sorrell envisioned an ensemble dedicated to the baroque ideal that music should evoke the various Affekts or passions in the listeners. Apollo's Fire, named after the classical god of music and the sun, is a collection of creative artists who share Sorrell's passion for drama and rhetoric."

Certainly, in this collection of baroque and modern music there is no want of creativity or drama, starting with an Iberian dance number by Vivaldi, followed by several transcriptions, and concluding with a recent partial tango, of all things. So, it's a diversified program, one that may be intriguing to some listeners or gimmicky to others. One cannot, however, say it's ordinary.

Things start out with the Concerto grosso, La Folia, arranged by Jeannette Sorrell after Vivaldi's Sonata Op. 1, No. 12. It's the aforementioned Iberian dance, with Moorish influences, a popular form all over Europe in the composer's day. Sorrell's arrangement allows all thirty or so of the players in Apollo's Fire to join in the fun. Despite the music being lively, Sorrell never takes it too fast, keeping it, as is her wont, to a moderate tempo. Nevertheless, the interpretation shows plenty of vitality and kicks off the album in fine style.

Next, we get Vivaldi's Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Op. 3, No. 10, RV 580. Later in the program we'll hear Bach's transcription of it for four harpsichords. Here, however, we get to enjoy the interplay among the four string instruments.

After that comes Vivaldi's Summer Concerto from The Four Seasons in an arrangement by Sorrell that replaces the solo violin with her at solo harpsichord. Apparently, it was a widespread practice in the baroque period to transcribe string works for keyboard presentations. Whatever, the result is unique and worthy of a listen. Insofar as the reading goes, though, it seems fairly traditional, with a strong third-movement Presto that brings the music to a rousing close.

Vivaldi's Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, RV 531 follows, exhibiting good color and several exotic interludes. Then Sorrell offers the Bach treatment of Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins, this time done up for four harpsichords. So, it's Vivaldi via Bach, and you'll hear a little of each composer in the music. The accomplished Apollo's Fire performers make both of the pieces seem entirely different (use your remote to switch back and forth).

The program ends with a modern work, the Tango Concerto in D minor for Two Violas da Gamba by Rene Schiffer (aka Rene Duchiffre, b. 1961), which closes with a tango. Why a modern tango, a purely twentieth-century genre, to end the piece? Well, why not? Schiffer writes that it's "because of the dance's signature elements of rhythmic simplicity and harmonic ostinato, which are also characteristic of many baroque dance forms, including the follia." Fair enough. Anyway, Sorrell and her group bring off this faux-baroque music as playfully as the rest of the album. Besides, Schiffer is the ensemble's principal cellist, so why not give him a shot.

The producers recorded all of the tracks in St. Paul's Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, with the first track done live in 2008. It may be live, but it doesn't really sound it, with only occasional minor noises from the audience. Not too closely miked, the acoustic provides ample space, definition, and air for the instruments to breathe.

The other items, done in 2000 and presumably not recorded live, to my ears sound cleaner than the first track, with a slightly more-resonant ambience to the hall and a more-realistic presence all the way around. While there is not too much depth of field here, one can hardly complain about the clarity of the sonics. No disappointments.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
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 Jon 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa