Mozart and Beethoven: Ballet Music (CD review)

Roy Goodman, Vasteras Sinfonietta. dB Productions dBCD148.

English conductor, singer, and violinist Roy Goodman has been a professional musician for over five decades, leading any number of well-known ensembles like the Brandenburg Consort, the Parlay of Instruments, the Hanover Band, the English Chamber Orchestra, and the European Union Baroque Orchestra. During this time, he’s made over 120 recordings and premiered over 40 contemporary works. But on the cover of the present album, Roy Goodman Conducts Mozart and Beethoven, he strikes a goofy pose worthy of Latin bandleader Xavier Cugat. Paint a little mustache on him and pretend he’s doing rumbas. Happily, there is nothing goofy about his performances of ballet tunes from Mozart’s Idomeneo and Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus.

The program begins with the little four-movement ballet sequence that closes Mozart’s Italian-language opera Idomeneo, which he premiered in 1781. Goodman produces a lively and buoyant opening Chaconne, followed by a lovely, flowing Larghetto. The conductor ensures that the transitions are seamless, so everything is of a piece. The next two segments Goodman takes at exhilarating speeds, though never hurried, offering up a conclusion both exciting and celebratory.

Beethoven’s dance music for The Creatures of Prometheus is much more extensive than that for the Mozart work, of course, Beethoven’s eighteen movements comprising a full ballet, starting with the familiar Overture. Again, Goodman gets the show started in invigorating fashion. Most of Mozart’s music here is pretty lightweight, to be sure, and without the actual dances as visual markers it’s not easy to follow the story. Fortunately, in Goodman’s hands you don’t need a story (and, yes, if you do need a narrative to follow, you can always read along from Goodman’s booklet notes). Goodman keeps the proceedings moving along at a healthy clip, maintaining the drama and the fantasy of the music neatly tied together. It’s all quite delightful, really.

Goodman does suggest in his notes that the music of Creatures may have marked a turning point in Beethoven’s output from the Classical period to Romanticism. And maybe that’s why Goodman presents it in so fluid, imaginative, and nonrestrictive a manner. As a final observation, if you recognize the theme in the last movement, it’s because the composer would use it in the finale of his Third Symphony a couple of years later. If you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

The engineers at dB Productions recorded the music on May 6-11, 2011, in the Vasteras Konserthus, Vasteras, Sweden. It sounds vibrant, with excellent midrange clarity and transient response. The Vasteras Sinfonietta is a chamber orchestra of just over thirty players, so the recording captures a fine intimacy. Although the sound is a tad thin in the bass and maybe a little forward at times in the lower strings, it is no cause for alarm because there is also a touch of hall resonance as compensation. The engineers miked the affair at a moderate distance, producing a slightly constricted stage width but rather good depth. With dynamics that are not particularly extraordinary but more than adequate, the result provides an enjoyably realistic listening experience, with a sense of you-are-there presence. The eighth-movement Allegro of The Creatures of Prometheus is especially useful in showing off the recording’s depth and transparency.

And why the goofy cover picture? Who knows. Maybe Goodman was up to being a little silly, or maybe he just wanted to get our attention. He did--with his exemplary performances.

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