Sarasate: Carmen Fantaisie (XRCD24 review)

Also, Zigeunerweisen; Saint-Saens: Havanaise; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Ruggiero Ricci, violin; Pierino Gamba, London Symphony Orchestra. JVC JVCXR-0227-2.

This disc has “audiophile” written all over it. It features some of the most virtuosic violin music ever written, performed in brilliant style by some of the most-talented players of their era, and recorded in some of the best state-of-the-art Decca sound of the late Fifties. It’s a heady combination, done up in some of today’s best state-of-the-art remastering and transfer techniques. Expensive, but maybe worth every penny.

Spanish violinist and composer Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navascués (1844-1908) dazzled audiences for decades with his playing and left the rest of us several basic-repertoire violin items performed brilliantly on this disc by violinist Ruggiero Ricci, with Pierino Gamba the London Symphony Orchestra in accompaniment.

Ricci's handling of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy (based, of course, on music from Bizet’s opera) is one of vigor, precision, and sheer brilliance. While Ricci’s version does not display the sultry sensuousness of Perlman's account with Lawrence Foster from a decade or so later, which remains my favorite interpretation, Ricci's reading probably makes a more vivid and more-lasting impression. His sheer virtuosity and showmanship carry the day, making this a classic performance in anyone's book.

Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen ("Gypsy Airs") comes next, with again Ricci reaching for the stars. He imparts plenty of atmosphere and color to the familiar Hungarian violin tunes, making this rendition among the best you'll find anywhere. Similar to the Carmen Fantasy, Zigeunerwisen tends to sound like the collection of bits and pieces that it is, yet what glorious bits and pieces they are, with Ricci making the most of each little showpiece. The violin sounds soulful, mournful, melancholy, bright, exciting, tuneful, and zesty by turns.

Rounding out the album are two works by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921): the Havanaise and the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. As with the Sarasate music, they are pieces that show off the skills of the performer, and again Ricci shines in the process with intensely rhythmic playing. Throughout all of the performances, Maestro Pierino Gamba's accompaniment with the LSO demonstrates only the finest collaboration, never upstaging the soloist yet always supportive and sympathetic.

Decca producer James Walker and engineers Alan Reeve and J. Timms recorded the music in September, 1959, at Kingsway Hall, London, the venue for many of Decca’s finest productions. Producer Akira Taguchi, executive producer Kevin Berg, and remastering engineer Alan Yoshida remastered the music in 2004 at Ocean Way Recording, Hollywood, California. The remastering uses XRCD 24-bit super analog processing, K2 super coding, DVD K2 laser, a K2 rubidium clock, and JVC’s extended pit cutting to ensure the best possible audiophile playback. What do you mean, How does it sound?

The remastered audio is extremely lifelike and alive: A fairly close violin, yet one with a rich, lustrous, realistic tone. A good sense of orchestral depth, with wide dynamics and a strong impact. Well-shaped percussion attacks. Quick transient response. Sharply etched yet smoothly rendered definition. And well-extended frequency extremes complete the picture. As I said up front, it's audiophile all the way and an improvement on the sometimes harder, glassier sound of the original Decca release.

Any quibbles? Well, the disc duplicates the original LP, which means there isn't a lot of material on it, about thirty-eight minutes in all. For the price of this audiophile disc, it's short measure, but thought of in terms of pure sensory pleasure, maybe it's a bargain.


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

Should you feel inclined to shop around for the disc, here are a couple of suggestions:

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa