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:


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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