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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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