Chabrier: Espana (SACD review)

Also, Suite Pastorale; Fete Polonaise; Gwendoline Overture; Danse Slave; Joyeuse Marche; Bourree Fantasque; Roussel: Suite in F. Paul Paray, Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 475 6183.

Better late than never. My catching up on great records, I mean.

I missed this classic recording when it first appeared on a Mercury Living Presence LP in 1960, as well as when Philips/Mercury later released it on CD in the early Nineties. There was probably even a Mercury Golden Import in there I missed, too; I don't know. In any case, it was an unfortunate loss on my part, but a wonderful catching up.

Paul Paray's performance of Espana is among the most joyous, infectiously exciting, and spontaneous I think I have ever heard. The playing is great; the interpretation is great; I think I'm in love. Seriously, this is not only a well-performed rendition of a popular warhorse, it's one of the most delightfully imaginative renderings you'll find as well. My previous favorites, a 1957 recording by Ataulfo Argenta and the LSO on Decca (and remastered on LIM) and a 1984 digital recording by Armin Jordan on Erato, are still by no means entirely eclipsed, but Paray brings just as much sparkle to the occasion, maybe more. Combine the excellence of Paray's Espana with the distinction of the companion pieces, and you get a delectable combination.

Moreover, Paray, as always, gets a superb production from recording director Wilma Cozart and chief engineer C. Robert Fine, the various selections made between 1957-1959 in the Cass Technical High School gymnasium and Old Orchestra Hall, felicitous spots for recording if ever there were any. About the only area in which the Erato disc excels the Mercury is in its depth of field, where there is slightly greater dimensionality to Jordan's orchestra, plus a touch more warmth. The Mercury engineers more closely miked their recording, and while it displays a little less depth, it also has more midrange transparency and openness. (To be fair, however, the LIM remastering of Argenta sounds remarkable, too, with enormous dynamics, although it costs an arm and a leg more.) In addition, the Mercury contains everything else found on the Erato issue, with the addition of the Roussel Suite in F, making the Mercury a winning deal.

What's more, the folks at Decca/Mercury offer the recording on a hybrid SACD, meaning in this case that you can listen to it in its original two-channel stereo (played either on a regular CD player or on an SACD player) and a three-channel version (SACD player only), which is the way the engineers originally recorded the piece before releasing it in stereo only. It's a remarkable recording, no matter how you look at (or listen to) it.

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.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa