Grooving Classics: A String & Percussion Fest! (XRCD review)

Harold Farberman, Colorado String Quartet; Ethos Percussion Group. FIM XR24 044.

This is an odd but fascinating one. Sonically, the disc sounds better than almost anything you’ll find on CD, no surprise considering it is a fairly recent XRCD24 recording from First Impression Music, FIM, whose audiophile work has been consistently good. Yet musically, you may have to get adjusted to some of the arrangements and interpretations.

Except for the unfortunate title, Grooving Classics, which conjures up in my mind visions of John Travolta and bell-bottom trousers, we have conductor Harold Farberman’s sometimes scintillating, sometimes eccentric reworkings of famous classical music for string quartet and four-person percussion ensemble. Some of it works; some of it, well, not so much. Call it an adventure.

Things get off to a good start with the second movement Andante from Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony. The “twinkle, twinkle little star” variation works well with a toy piano and various light percussion, joined in the “surprise” by the strings and a big timpani drum. But that’s followed by Farberman’s curious reworking of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which he so distorts as to be almost unlistenable. To each his own, I suppose. The “Can Can” from Offenbach’s Le Contes d’Hoffmann comes off well, probably because it’s rather raucous music to begin with; the popping of champagne corks (balloons, actually) adds to the fun. Then, the Adagio from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony suffers from a peculiar combination of instruments, as do some of Tchaikovsky’s dances from the Nutcracker.

However, there are also some outstanding items on the album, among my three favorites being Strauss’s Fledermaus overture; the traditional “Red River Valley”; and with the Northwest Sinfonietta a special track of Faberman/Bizet’s “Habenera Fantasia” from Carmen. You can also find the latter two pieces on FIM Super Sounds! (XR24 066) and FIM Super Sounds! III (XR24 073). Anyway, as I say, it’s hit and miss.

Beyond questions of musical taste, however, there is nothing amiss with the sound. The production team can’t be beat: Producer Winston Ma, recording engineer Keith Johnson, and editing engineers Tam Henderson and Paul Stubblebine. Keith and Tam you may recognize as the guiding forces behind Reference Recordings. Recorded at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, New York, in 2005 and using 1/2” analog tape at 15 ips, their work results in a startlingly real sonic picture, with as extended highs and as well-controlled lows as you’ll hear anywhere. The stage dimensions are wide, the dynamics are strong, the ambient bloom is warm and natural, and the overall effect is as clean as it gets. Pick the few pieces you like best, and you have a first-rate, modern (albeit expensive) XRCD demo disc.


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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 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 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 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.

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