Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. PentaTone Classics 5186 112.
When director Milos Foreman and producer Saul Zantz asked Neville Marriner to conduct the music for Amadeus, their 1984 movie depiction of Mozart's life, there was good reason for the choice. These recordings are one of them.
In the early 1970's, Marriner was among the first conductors to record Mozart's early symphonies in stereo, a fairly startling and groundbreaking enterprise for the time. Back then, most people had pretty much disregarded most of the composer's youthful writing in favor of the big later pieces. Marriner showed the world the worth of some of the earlier works.
Then, in 2003 the folks at PentaTone Classics unearthed the original master tapes for a number of these Marriner recordings that Philips Records had originally done in the Quadraphonic format but never released that way. PentaTone remastered them in a series of four volumes in the two-layer, hybrid stereo/multichannel SACD format, this first volume of four containing the Symphony in G, and the Symphonies Nos. 7a, 12, and 18. Of the four symphonies, I must admit the two very earliest are charming but shallow; that is, they are tuneful, jaunty, and sweet, but they haven't a lot of substance one can remember. By contrast, Nos. 12 and, especially, 18 are more original, more complex, and more remarkable. Indeed, No. 18 is alone worth the SACD's asking price. That is, if you don't mind the somewhat hefty cost of these four-channel discs.
Needless to say, Marriner and the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields perform the works with their customary sprightly vigor and refined taste, and the PentaTone engineers remastered the Philips recordings in audio highly reminiscent of how many of us recall Philips discs sounding in the early Seventies.
The sound, which Philips recorded at Brent Town Hall, Wembly, London in 1972 and 1973, is big and warm and a tad soft in the midrange, with traces of hardness at times in the treble, nevertheless providing the relatively small ensemble with a rather larger size than their numbers would admit; nonetheless, the audio seems entirely appropriate. This is not a period-instruments group, after all, and the sound seems properly traditional. Indeed, in the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened, I found the sound quite pleasing. It's maybe not entirely of audiophile quality, but it's reasonably natural and well defined.
Again, my only hesitation here is in recommending a person spend money on a hybrid SACD for two-channel stereo alone if a person hasn't got an SACD player to enjoy the full capabilities of the SACD or surround-sound layers. On the other hand, as far as I can determine at the moment of this writing, investing in this disc (or PentaTone's complete box set) may be the best way to obtain the Marriner performances since the original Philips discs in complete sets may cost even more, if you can even find them. And if you do have an SACD player, well, the disc seems self-recommending.
To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:
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 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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 simple-minded, 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 Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. 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 LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. 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.
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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