Also, The Little Mermaid; Overtures. Viktorija Kaminskaite, soprano; Jun Markl, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 5.573110.
What would we do without Naxos? Certainly, we would not get to hear as many neglected eighteenth and nineteenth-century composers as the label affords us. In this case it's Eugen Francois Charles d'Albert (1864 - 1932), a Scottish-born German composer and pianist who got his early education in Scotland before moving to London in his later youth. Then, showing musical talent, d'Albert won a scholarship to study in Austria, where he stayed for a while before moving to Germany, there studying with Franz Liszt and starting a career as a concert pianist.
Apparently, he was all the rage as a virtuoso pianist, but he also produced a prodigious number of musical compositions including twenty-one operas and numerous orchestral and chamber works. On the present album, conductor Jun Markl and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra provide a variety of the man's overtures, preludes, and suites. While I can't say I fell in love with any of them--and it's probably no accident that much of the fellow's music fell into neglect--I didn't dislike any of the material, either, most of it varied and tuneful enough to maintain my interest.
Maestro Markl begins the program with three brief overtures and two preludes. All of them appear to fall squarely in the Romantic idiom, and none of them seem to me particularly memorable. As this is only the second such d'Albert collection from Markl, one assumes the conductor chose some of the best of d'Albert's music to record. If that's the case, maybe the rest of it deserves neglect. Anyway, the first selections are the Overture to Grillparzer's Esther, the Prelude to Die toten Augen ("The Dead Eyes"), the Prelude to Act II of Gernot, the Overture to Der Rubin ("The Ruby"), and the Overture to Die Abreise ("The Departure").
The music of the opening pieces offers just about every turn of phrase you can think of, most of it loud and not a little bombastic. Well, that's the nature of most overtures, in any case; composers mean for them to get and hold our attention as the curtain rises on a production. It's just that here it's the "get" that works, not really the "hold." Despite Markl's best efforts and the splendid work of the MDR Leipzig RSO, the music doesn't really reveal anything new, innovative, special, or unusual I could latch onto. The best I can say for it is that it's totally innocuous, so you won't feel as though you wasted your time on it. And, to be fair, "The Dead Eyes" Prelude has an appealing air of quiet mystery about it.
Then we come to the two centerpieces of the album: the Aschenputtel Suite ("Cinderella Suite") and Das Seejungfraulein ("The Little Mermaid") for soprano and orchestra. These were much more to my liking. Cinderella tells the familiar Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the suite having five movements that take us through the plot. Here, I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of each descriptive little tone poem, with Markl and his players well capturing the atmosphere, romance, and gentle adventure of the narrative. Well, OK, maybe Markl could have supplied a little more pomp and punch in the final wedding dance, but it's a minor issue.
D'Albert wrote "The Little Mermaid" (based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson) in 1897 for his wife at the time to sing (he married quite a few times). Here it's sung by Lithuanian soprano Viktorija Kaminskaite, whose voice justifies continued listening. It's quite lovely.
Although, as I say, I didn't find all the material on the album worth hearing more than once, there is no denying that you get enough of it. The disc contains over seventy-five minutes of music, close to the limit of a CD. For a relatively inexpensive product, you're at least getting your money's worth in playing time.
Tim Handley produced, engineered, and edited the music, which he recorded in 2011 at the MDR Studio Augustusplatz, Leipzig, Germany. The sound is fairly typical of Naxos's better work of late. It's big, bold, warm, and round, with a smooth, natural bloom from the hall. It's never forward, bright, hard, or edgy, nor is it especially transparent or ultra-clear. The sonics are rather modest, actually, providing a decent depth of field, with somewhat limited impact, dynamics, and frequency extremes. It's the kind of sound that will neither excite nor offend the audiophile but makes for easy, relaxed listening.
To listen to a brief excerpt 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 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 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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