Tchaikovsky: Capriccio italien (XRCD24 review)

Also, Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio espagnol. Kiril Kondrashin, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24013.

Years ago, a reader took me to task for praising what he considered the unnecessarily high price of JVC’s XRCD series of audiophile remastered discs. In his opinion, paying upwards of a dollar a minute for a half an hour’s music was a rip-off. He had, of course, a point; especially today when you can only find some of these things used at even more exorbitant prices. These remastered discs from JVC, FIM, Hi-Q, and others are expensive, and they do not provide any longer playing times than their counterpart LP’s provided when they first appeared back in the old vinyl days. 

On the other hand, you get what you pay for. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Bugattis are very expensive automobiles and generally only seat two people. But if you have the money and the desire, the cars are worth the price. The cost of the JVC discs isn’t only in their manufacture, although the packaging they come in is undoubtedly more costly than an ordinary jewelbox. The price factor comes into play in the extra time, engineering, and equipment required for JVC to make the transfers. This isn’t brain surgery. No one is forcing a person to buy JVC’s remastered discs or anyone else’s. And since their superiority over the regular product is only slight at best, no one is even recommending that people do so. But if you want the best, you pay for the best. It’s that simple.

Anyway, moving on. Kiril Kondrashin had been conducting music for a long time before he struck it rich accompanying Van Cliburn in RCA’s historic recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in May of 1958. Thereafter, Kondrashin became much better known, especially in America, and continued to record for many years. Several months after recording the Piano Concerto, RCA asked him to do a series of recordings for them, one of which is this coupling of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio italien and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnol. I remember the album at the time of its release being stunning. Audiophiles considered the LP version among the best demo fare of the day, and, of course, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one, even though I was just in high school at the time and didn’t really have the money for too many classical records.

Nevertheless, I bought it, and the LP remained in my collection for many years until it succumbed to the CD revolution. Foolish me; I figured at the time that literally all of the great recordings of at least the stereo age would quickly make it to compact disc. Well, this one took quite a while, and I never did buy the RCA CD issue. So I have only a memory with which to compare this JVC remastering.

Frankly, in the Tchaikovsky Capriccio italien I was expecting more. JVC’s 2003 XRCD24 remastered disc begins with what sounded initially to my ears like something much too bright and hard. As the music continued, I realized that what I was hearing was a very clear, very clean high end, a fairly transparent midrange, and very little compensating bass. Kondrashin’s rather slow performance also took me somewhat aback; I remembered it as being more vigorous and exciting. Yet both the sound and the interpretation grew on me, and by the last few minutes of the piece, the conductor had, indeed, built up a good head of steam, and even the sound was showing signs of low-end response.

The Capriccio espagnol, however, was an entirely different case. Recorded on the same day as the Capriccio italien and engineered and produced by the same team of Lewis Layton and Richard Mohr that brought us Fritz Reiner’s great “Living Stereo” recordings, the Capriccio espagnol sounds almost entirely different from the Capriccio italien. The sonics appear smoother, less bright, and more weighty in the bass; and the performance is exhilarating from the very outset. Go figure. In fact, I’m willing to say this is the best Capriccio espagnol currently before the public.

Is the price of the JVC disc worth the thirty-one minutes of music it holds? Not by any practical standards I can think of, especially since you can buy the regular RCA edition new for about five bucks, and it even contains additional music. But is the JVC disc worth the price if you enjoy it immensely and play it multiple times? Then, yes, I’d say maybe so, even if the JVC album is practically unavailable at the moment except used from a limited number of sources. In fact, at the time of this writing, I noticed somebody at Amazon offering it used for an asking price of nearly $2,000. If anybody would like to tender that offer for my copy, I’d be glad to entertain the bid. :)

To listen to 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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa