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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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.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa