Dvorak and Suk: Czech Serenades (CD review)

Dvorak: Serenade for Strings and Nocturne for Strings; Suk: Serenade for Strings. Daniel Myssyk, Appassionata Chamber Orchestra. Fidelio X2HD FACD036.

Maestro Daniel Myssyk founded the Appassionata Chamber Orchestra in 2000 for just such music as we hear on the present disc. I say this because Appassionata is a relatively small Canadian group of about twenty musicians who play delicately and fluidly, just the characteristics that become the Dvorak and Suk serenades presented on the album. It’s lovely music done up in lovely style (and in lovely sound), a combination hard to beat.

Czech violinist and composer Joseph Suk (1874-1935) may not have become as famous, celebrated, or beloved as his mentor and fellow Czech, Antonin Dvorak, but people will probably remember his Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6 (1892) for ages to come. The story goes that while Dvorak was listening to some of Suk’s music, Dvorak commented that he noticed a definite melancholy streak in it and suggested Suk try something lighter and brighter, something like a serenade. Certainly, there is nothing melancholy about the Suk Serenade or the way Myssyk and Appassionata play it. The Serenade sounds elegant, graceful, refined, ethereal, as though floating on gossamer wings, Appassionata keeping it simple and serene. We get Suk’s expanded four-movement revision of the work here from 1895, all the movements shining gems, the orchestra making them sparkle all the more.

The Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22 (1875) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) hardly needs introduction. Almost anybody would recognize its opening movement at the very least. Myssyk takes it at a tad more relaxed and flowing pace than one usually hears it, making it all the more radiant. Perhaps some listeners will find the interpretation a touch too romanticized, too sentimental, too dewy-eyed; I find it effortless, heartfelt, and committed to a degree one doesn’t often hear. The performance is delightful: tranquil, charming, and vivacious by turns.

The program closes with Dvorak’s little Nocturne for Strings in B major, Op. 40 (1882), which the composer adapted from an unpublished string quartet he wrote in 1870. Critics have suggested that its harmonic colors and chromatic progressions foreshadow some of the slow movements in Mahler’s symphonies. Could be. Although it may not be a dark and stormy night that Dvorak describes, it is a dark and shadowy night, to be sure, especially under Myssyk and Appassionata, the orchestra living up to its name, passionate and poetic.

For the sound, Fidelio Musique used a recording technique called X2HD, which they describe as “a five step, no compromise process, designed to create the most natural and realistic sounding high definition CDs and high-resolution files. The X2HD process relies mainly on the fact that a computer is not an audio instrument and therefore far from being musical. By getting rid of most computer processes and external hash, Fidelio gets you closer to the real recording session, restoring stereo spread, spatial positioning, preserving hall characteristics and the timbre of each instrument.” They further claim superiority over conventional recording and mastering by using SSD drives free of moving parts; capturing real stereo by “a real stereo microphone technique”; utilizing PPE (Pure Power Energy) equipment battery powered; incorporating “a direct recording hi-end encoding system with 24-bit/192kHz DCS A to D with dual power supplies directly feeding a Pyramix 7 audio workstation without mixer; real time bit per bit encoding without downsampling; and all tube analog components, including Schoeps M222 (tube) microphones. Essentially, they say, “Fidelio Musique’s recording technique for this album is identical to the one used by Mercury Records during the Sixties.”

So Fidelio uses some of today’s best, state-of-the-art equipment to duplicate what Mercury was doing over fifty years ago. And so much for progress. More important, however, than technical specs is what it actually sounds like, and that is quite impressive. Made at the Church of the Nativity, La Prairie, QC, Canada in 2012, the sound is as lifelike as one could want. It’s remarkably clean, smooth, open, airy, full, yet transparent, with a fine sense of depth, breadth, dimension, and spacial locality. There’s a good transient attack involved, too, with a wide frequency response, well-extended highs, and a realistic bloom and impact. The mildly resonant acoustic helps to complement all of these good qualities as well. It’s a quietly subtle audiophile disc.

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


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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa