Opera Breve (SACD review)

Operatic transcriptions for violin and piano of music by Falla, Tchaikovsky, Donizetti, Gluck, Rossini, Strauss, Gershwin, Saint-Saens, Humperdinck, and Raff. Philippe Quint, violin; Lily Maisky, piano. Avanticlassic 5414706 10402.

Fans of operatic transcriptions might enjoy the Opera Breve album. Fans of instrumental music might enjoy the album. Fans of violin and piano recitals might enjoy the album. Fans of violinist Philippe Quint and pianist Lily Maisky might enjoy the album. Fans of good sound might enjoy the album. In other words, there’s a little something for almost everybody here to enjoy, an album of music well played and well recorded.

For those of you unfamiliar with the artists, Philippe Quint is an award-winning American violinist who has performed with major orchestras internationally, received several Grammy nominations, starred in the major independent film Downtown Express, and recorded over half a dozen albums, of which Opera Breve is the second for the Avanticlassic label. He plays here on the 1708 “Ruby” Antonio Stradivari violin on loan from The Stradivari Society. Lily Maisky is a Paris-born pianist who has been playing the piano since the age of four. She, too, has performed extensively throughout the world and recorded for both DG and EMI.

As the album’s title suggests, Opera Breve is all about brief opera selections, transcribed for violin and piano by various people, including Mr. Quint himself. Things begin with the “Spanish Dance” from La Vida Breve by Manuel de Falla, in an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler. It’s a good indication of what to expect throughout the program. Quint tells us in a booklet note that “most of the recorded works are associations, reflections and memories that made me remember very significant people and moments in my life.” Fair enough. He goes on to say what some of those memories are about, but for the listener, the music alone is the thing.

Anyway, the “Spanish Dance” displays all the lively pizzazz Falla intended, Quint's violin darting and soaring through the notes, with Ms. Maisky's piano accompaniment following sympathetically. They make an enticing duo, each of them fully attuned to the other. The memory here, says Quint, is of street musicians playing the folk version of the tune. No doubt, folk musicians influenced his own playing of it, helping him provide much gusto to the rhythms.

And so it goes through "Lensky's Aria" from Tchaikovsky's Eugen Onegin, most wistful and serene; Donizetti's "Un Furtiva Lagrima" from l'Elisir d'Amore, solemn and equally serene; Gluck's "Melodie" from Orfeo et Eurydice, another number in the slow, Romantic vein Quint seems to prefer throughout the tracks.

However, the mood changes with a paraphrase on Rossini's "Largo al factotum" from The Barber of Seville, which comes across with all the vitality and good humor of the opera. Here, it's fun to hear Quint's violin imitating the vocals, practically singing them. Next, Richard Strauss's Morgen offers a sweetly gentle follow-up to the more boisterous Rossini, played with exquisite care and attention by both Quint and Maisky.

Then we get four selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, a suite arranged by Jascha Heifetz:  "Summertime," "My Man's Gone Now," "Bess You Is My Woman Now," and "It Ain't Necessarily So." Quint shows a splendid feeling for the bluesy, jazzy atmosphere of Gershwin's songs and conveys the rich tapestry of the composer's colorful score.

The album ends with Saint-Saens's "Cantabile" from Samson et Dalila, Humperdinck's "Evening Prayer" from Hansel und Gretel, and, as a bonus, Joseph Joachim Raff's "Cavatina." They are all slow, Romantic melodies, played with much feeling, though never over-sentimentalized.

I'm not sure why Quint or the producers or whomever call the final item a bonus, though: There are only a little over fifty-three minutes of music on the program. I wish there were much more. Quint's sensitive, highly expressive playing and Ms. Maisky's admirably supportive partnership combine for one of the most-appealing albums of the year. Brief but appealing.

Avanticlassic recorded the music in hybrid two-channel/multichannel SACD at Teldex Studio, Berlin from July 12-14, 2012. As recording engineers do with quite a lot of music these days, they have recorded it rather closely, so it comes across very much in your face, and one has to play it back at a moderately low level in order for it to sound realistic. Be that as it may, the two-channel track to which I listened sounds nicely detailed, with a modest but attractive resonant bloom giving it life. The music fairly glows in this acoustic and sounds most alluring.

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