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program closes with Dvorak’s little Nocturne for Strings in B major, Op. 40 (1882), which the composer adapted from an unpublished string quartet he wrote in 1870.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:


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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 Jon 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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