Schubert: String Quartet in D minor "Death and the Maiden" (CD review)

Also, Dvorak: Quartet in F Major "American," both scored for string orchestra. Charles Rosekrans, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Telarc CD-80610.

I suspect that one's reaction to this disc will depend largely upon one's familiarity with the original string quartet versions of the two pieces included. But the string orchestra transcriptions presented here are certainly accessible and designed for mass public appeal; indeed, as a number of years have passed since Telarc released this disc, you may have already heard the music to distraction on your favorite classical radio station. Certainly, the late opera, symphony, and ballet conductor Charles Rosekrans (1934-2009) and the estimable Royal Philharmonic Orchestra do a splendid job performing it.

Franz Schubert wrote his String Quartet in D minor "Death and the Maiden" in 1824, partly inspired by the words of a poem by Matthias Claudius about Death tempting a young woman with his soothing words. The work's combination of energy and melancholy have attracted audiences ever since. What we have on this disc, though, is something a little less formidable in an arrangement by Gustav Mahler for quite a few more strings. The result seems more romanticized, more idyllic, softer, and lusher than Schubert's original. The bigger arrangement obviously gives up a good deal of intimacy for the larger, cushier sound of a string orchestra, and I must confess I found it lost some of its impact and allure in the translation.

However, the Quartet in F Major, "American," written by Antonin Dvorak in 1893, rather benefits from its bigger arrangement, taking on a grander sweep that embellishes the music through its larger forces. Unfortunately, the Telarc folks do not tell us anywhere I could find on the packaging or in the booklet the number of strings involved or who did the new scoring. I presume the numbers involved are about the same as in the Schubert, and perhaps Telarc meant for us to assume the arrangement was by the conductor, Charles Rosekrans; I don't know. Still, it's odd. I mean, the notes tell us what microphones, amplifier, and speakers Telarc used to produce the disc but little about the arrangement of the music itself. In any case, I enjoyed the Dvorak slightly more than the Schubert, perhaps because over the years I've gotten more used to the sound of Dvorak in bigger arrangements to begin with.

And speaking of sonics, the recording (which Telarc released in 2003) does not sound quite as well defined as I would have expected from Telarc, given that they were working with a small string orchestra and all. Probably as a result of the natural hall ambience, there is a bit of haze or veil overhanging the orchestral picture, so we don't get as much inner detailed as Telarc often reproduce on their discs. In any case, this soft veiling may actually enhance the expressive, warmhearted characteristics of the music. It doesn't distract much and doesn't really harm the music.

JJP

To listen to a few brief excerpts 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 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.

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