Weber: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 (CD review)

Also, Invitation to the Dance; Bassoon Concerto. Karen Geoghegan, bassoon; Juanjo Mena, BBC Philharmonic. Chandos CHAN 10748.

Think of German pianist, guitarist, conductor, critic, and composer Baron Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (1786-1826) as one of the early pioneers of the Romantic movement in classical music. Anyone with a name that long deserves a reputation for something. His operas Euryanthe, Oberon, and Der Freisch├╝tz were especially influential in establishing the use of the leitmotif (a short, constantly recurring musical phrase); Berlioz, Wagner, and others would soon follow suit in their music. Anyway, on this Chandos album with the BBC Philharmonic and their Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena we get one of Weber’s most-famous works, the Invitation to the Dance, along with his two Symphonies and the Bassoon Concerto. It’s a fair lot.

Mena begins with the Invitation to the Dance, perhaps to remind listeners of just where in the history of music Weber belongs. It is something folks would be most sure to recognize, as opposed to the other works on the disc. Weber originally composed the Invitation to the Dance for solo piano in 1819, and here we find it in the form we know it by most familiarly today, the orchestration Hector Berlioz made of it 1841 for ballet purposes. Mena begins the piece at a sweet, leisurely pace and then moves briskly into the main theme. The whole affair under Mena assumes a light, pleasant mood, punctuated by intervals of appropriate commotion. Weber composed the waltz for his wife, so you would expect an affectionate performance, which is what Mena gives us, along with a dance-like ballet feeling, which it later became.

Weber wrote his two symphonies when he was only twenty years old, publishing them shortly after Beethoven premiered his Eroica Symphony. Needless to say, Weber’s early work paled by comparison and sort of faded into obscurity. Still, the two pieces have a few interesting features, and Mena infuses the episodic score with a Rossini-like flair. Both symphonies are quite dramatic and betray a youthful desire to cover all things at once. So expect a lot of impetuous zeal in the music, which, again, Mena is happy to exploit. Like his First Symphony, Weber’s Second contains a little of everything; look for elements of opera, symphony, and ballet in here. It’s sort of fun, actually, if notably forgettable.

Unlike the two symphonies that flank it on both sides of the program, the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra involves some serious atmosphere, color, and flavor. Mena takes a no-nonsense approach to it, and it comes off as a mellow yet fairly cheerful work. Soloist Karen Geoghegan’s playing is lyrical, melancholy, dynamic, exhilarating, and playful as the opportunities arise. The Concerto is a highlight of the album.

Chandos made this 24-bit/96 kHz recording in 2012 at MediaCity UK, Salford, England. The sound is just transparent enough to provide some excellent detailing, even if it doesn’t quite reach audiophile standards because it’s a tad lean and forward. The sound always remains well spread out between the two front speakers, with a precise placement of instruments that doesn’t appear too compartmentalized. Ralph Couzens produced the disc, and he’s always pretty particular about making good, natural-sounding recordings. There is also a pleasing sense of air and space around the instruments, a mild concert-hall resonance, and a modest degree of depth involved.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


No comments:

Post a Comment

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 ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa