Ravel: Bolero (UltraHD CD review)

Also, Borodin: Music from Kismet; Bizet: Suites from Carmen; Albeniz: Fete-dieu a Seville. Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. FIM LIM UHD 063 LE.

Released in 2008, Telarc’s Bolero was one of the last recordings Erich Kunzel made before his death in 2009. I read someplace that Kunzel had by that time become the number-one most-recorded conductor in the world. Today, he’s undoubtedly got as many Telarc recordings to his credit as most conductors have compiled in a lifetime. Now the folks at the audiophile company FIM have remastered the Bolero album using their UltraHD 32-bit mastering process, making the sound better than ever. If you’re a fan of Maestro Kunzel, you might find the disc of interest, despite its heady price tag.

Kunzel dedicated the Bolero album to the music of Spain, though mostly written by Frenchmen. The program starts with Maurice Ravel’s celebrated piece, yet it is, for me, the least-effective reading on the disc. Ravel once said that his Bolero should take about seventeen minutes to get through; Kunzel does it up in just over thirteen minutes. I have to admit that in Kunzel’s last few Telarc recordings with the Cincinnati Pops, he seemed less than animated, but I wasn’t expecting him to fly through the Bolero quite so quickly. It may sound a bit more exhilarating than most other interpretations, but it robs the music of its sensual qualities. Plus, there was one moment in it that made me laugh out loud, something I doubt Ravel intended.

Next, Kunzel does a medley of excerpts from the music of Alexander Borodin, music that Telarc proudly announce as “popularized in the musical Kismet.” I’m not sure if Telarc or Kunzel realize that most listeners today probably no more recognize this fifty-odd-year-old musical than they recognize the name Borodin itself. In any case, we get passages from the Symphony No. 2, “In the Steppes of Central Asia,” the String Quartet No. 2, the Symphony No. 1, and the Overture and “Polovtsean Dances” from Prince Igor. Kunzel handles them in a somewhat perfunctory style.

The best section of the album, however, contains music from Georges Bizet’s Carmen Suites Nos. 1 and 2, which come off quite well--dramatic and voluptuous, exciting and sensitive in all the right places. You might want to consider the disc for these two suites alone. Then things finish up with Isaac Albeniz’s “Fete-dieu a Seville” from Iberia, which seems a bit anticlimactic after all the Carmen music, but it’s OK.

Producer Robert Woods and engineer Robert Friedrich recorded the album for Telarc in 2007 at Cincinnati Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio. Mr. Friedrich and FIM producer Winston Ma remastered the disc in 2013, using FIM's Ultra High Definition 32-bit mastering and PureFlection replicating processes. The "PureFlection" business is an indication of FIM's intent to reproduce on disc as nearly as possible what is on a master tape, a "pure reflection" of the original.

Understand, I still think the sound of the standard-issue Telarc is pretty good, but one of the things I noted in my review of it a few years back was a bit of dulling at the high end, making the sound appear smoother and warmer than what we might hear live. No such dulling here, though, where the highs glisten. The FIM product also seems to increase the sense of orchestral depth in the recording, while tightening up most of the transients. The response is marginally tauter, cleaner, and, therefore, clearer throughout the frequency range, with slightly improved dynamics and the usual robust bass.  In other words, FIM have made already good sonics even better, and the results are among the best I've heard, a genuine audiophile disc.

However, whether you think FIM's sound is worth the higher price (over twice the cost of the Telarc) is, of course, another story. Only buyers themselves can decide what's worth it for them. For audiophiles with excellent playback equipment, deep pockets, and a love for the music making of Maestro Erich Kunzel, it's probably well worth the extra money. For most other people, maybe not.

Commensurate with the dear cost of an audiophile product, the packaging bespeaks of the higher price. The disc comes packaged in a glossy, hardbound Digipak-type case, with a sixteen-page booklet bound to the inside, and an inner sleeve and additional static-proof envelope for the disc. It's a classy affair.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


1 comment:

  1. As has become defacto, it's all about the packaging instead of the contents. Kunzel like Fiedler becomes all too much as, quite frankly, once you heard the first 25 Kunzel recordings for Telarc, you've heard them all. At times, he his the mark and he is superb; other times, he's off the mark and he is as mundane as any conductor can be and still conduct an orchestra...usually, however, Kunzel is decent with highlights spread along the way as was Fiedler. Too much Kunzel is tantamount to too much film music... .


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

Contact Information

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

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa