Classical Expressions (HQCD review)

Music of Khachaturian, Granados, Saraste, Rachmaninov, Schubert, Debussy, and others. Richard Amoroso, The Not-So-Classical Chamber Ensemble. HDTT DTR1.

In their own words, “Direct-to-Tape Recording Company (DTR) was founded in 1979 with the goal of capturing the sound of a performance as you would hear it if you were there.

Although the recording media have changed from the open reel and cassette tapes we originally used in 1979 to PCM digital in 1982 and later to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and now to hard disk recorders, our philosophy has remained the same. DTR recordings are normally recorded with two microphones to capture a natural sound and the acoustic space of a performance. We use no equalization, compression, limiting, or other electronic tricks and gimmicks that can spoil the sound. Very few splices (if any) are used within each movement or piece in order to capture the musical ‘soul’ of a performance. The results of these efforts are recordings which duplicate, as closely as possible, the sound you would hear if you were at a live performance.

The music we are recording (primarily classical, jazz, and light classical) is served best by our recording techniques. By using only two microphones we avoid the myriad problems which occur with multitrack recording.”

Now the folks at HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) have begun remastering some of DTR’s material, apparently making it better than ever (although I can only assume this because I had no standard-issue DTR disc on hand with which to make comparisons. I can only say that DTR’s recording techniques produce quite realistic outcomes and that HDTT’s processing produces an excellent remastering. For the audiophile, the HDTT product seems well worth investigating.

The present recording, Classical Expressions, features The Not-So-Classical Chamber Ensemble lead by Richard Amoroso. To suggest that they are a somewhat unusual ensemble for playing classical music would itself be somewhat unusual. Maestro Amoroso is not only the leader of the group but the chief arranger and cellist. Other members at the time of this recording included Ronald Amoroso, classical accordion; Patrick Mercuri and Regecca Mercuri, mandolin and guitars; Walter Pfeil, harp; Nick Mastripolito, piano; Nick D’Amico, marimba; John Leitham, string bass; and Harvey Price, percussion. They are all experienced musicians who either perform regularly in major symphony orchestras or teach music at major universities or both. So, of course, they perform well. It’s just that their blend of instruments (cello, accordion, mandolin, guitar, harp, piano, marimba, bass, and percussion in various combinations) can produce some musical results that are a little odd.

Fortunately, they don’t call themselves the tongue-in-cheek “Not-So-Classical Chamber Ensemble” for nothing. While their sound seems better suited to pop music, their enthusiasm, gusto, and pure musicianship carry the day. The sound may be a tad quirky for classical music, but different is not necessarily bad. They are, in fact, quite a lot of fun to listen to, and they have chosen to perform numbers on this album that complement their sound and style.

You can judge for yourself the quality of the performances from the opening track (reproduced below at much lower audio quality), Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" from his ballet Gayaneh. Yes, the instrument amalgam produces some bizarre-sounding results if you're used to hearing this material in symphonic form, but, again yes, it is definitely a kick to enjoy. The performers sound as they're having as good a time as the listener, too.

And so it goes through a dozen brief tracks, some no more than three or four minutes each, which is the only real shortcoming of the album: it's only about thirty-three minutes long. Still, each item is of interest for one reason or another. In part this is because of the ingenuity and creativity of the players, and in part because each item uses a different arrangement of instruments, from solos to duets to trios to full ensemble.

A good example of the diversity on the program is the second track, "Nostalgia," by Eloysa Barroso, originally a piano piece, here arranged by Laurindo Almeida for two guitars. It's sweet and light and impeccably performed.

Walter Pfeil, formerly the principal harpist with the Minneapolis, Baltimore, and St. Louis Symphonies, demonstrates his skills in a solo performance of "Whirlwind" by Carlos Salzedo. It's gorgeous, and it pretty much stole the show for me.

The album continues through short works by Enrique Granados ("Orientale - Spanish Dance No. 2"); Pablo de Sarasate ("Zapateado," another showstopper); Sergei Rachmaninov ("Prelude in G," arranged by Richard Amoroso); and so on.

Among my favorites, besides "Nostalgia": Maurice Ravel's "Piece in the Form of a Habanera," delightfully transcribed for cello and harp; George Gershwin's "Prelude II," arranged for cello and guitar, a wonderfully bluesy little work; and Claude Debussy's "Girl with the Flaxen Hair," improbably but beautifully transcribed for cello and accordion.

Finally, for a bit of excitement, we have Schubert's "The Bee," Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" and Zequinha's "Tico Tico." The album presents an unusual assortment of tunes, as I've said, played on an unusual merging of instruments, yet it works. I just wish the program were longer.

Producer and engineer Bob Sellman recorded the music for DTR in 1981 using a direct-to-tape method that involved two Schoeps microphones and open-reel recording equipment. As a booklet note points out, Sellman used “no compression, equalization or limiting during its recording or editing. No splices or edits were made within any pieces.” HDTT remastered the original tapes in 2013, and I listened to it on an HQCD. The sound is about as realistic as you're going to find. There's an especially good sense of depth and space that lends to the illusion of being in the same room or hall with the performers. There's reasonably good transparency to the midrange, a well-extended high end, quick transient response, and plenty of air around the instruments. Never will you hear anything hard, shrill, bright, edgy, or dull. You may, however, hear a very slight tape noise in the background, but unless you're playing the music way too loud, you shouldn't notice it.

For further information on the various formats, configurations, blank HQCD discs, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

To listen to a selection 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