Stamitz and Richter: Early String Symphonies (SACD review)

Simon Murphy, The Chamber Orchestra of the New Dutch Academy. PentaTone Classics PTC 5186 028. 

The PentaTone people were continuing their merry way releasing hybrid stereo/multichannel Super Audio CDs even in 2003 when they released this one. The disc is dual layered and runs on any standard CD player in two-channel stereo as well as on a SACD player in 2.0 and 5.1 surround. I can't be sure, but it seems that about half the stuff PentaTone have released so far they've made new, and most of the other material they've taken from Philips, who originally recorded it in multichannel during the Seventies but didn't release that way.

Anyway, the disc reviewed here features two and three works each from the eighteenth-century composers Franz Xaver Richter (1709-1789) and Johann Stamitz (1717-1757). The works on the program carry the title Sinfonia a Quattro (in A, D, B flat, and C minor, plus an excerpt, the Andante, from Stamitz's Symphony in D major). Not that any of this is likely to be familiar to very many people. Maybe that's the idea--to present material that conductors have not worn out through repetition. Unfortunately, despite the few innovative touches we hear throughout, the music on the disc begins to sound rather alike after the first few movements. Still, that's another story, and it may be due as much to the performers involved as to the music. Or it may just be my own limited musical scope.

Whatever the case, the music is typically late Baroque, all deriving from around 1740-1750. Stamitz, a Czech composer, was one of those guys who wrote about seventy-five symphonies, most of them in the Mannheim style, where he served as concertmaster for a time. Richter, an Austro-Moravian, was a violinist, singer, composer, conductor, and music theoretician, and also at Mannheim at about the same Stamitz worked there, so you see the connection for this recording. The material will appeal to lovers of the Baroque who want and need everything they can lay ear to, as well as to listeners who want to hear the development of the early symphony as an art form.

The performances from the Dutch Academy players using period instruments under conductor Simon Murphy appear sturdy, certainly refined, technically accomplished, and fairly spirited, if not always as vigorous as say, the performances of the Philharmonia Baroque or Boston Baroque. The venue the engineers chose provides a lively acoustic, with plenty of hall reflection, a resonance that obscures some detail but tends to make the twenty-odd players of the Dutch Academy sound like a bigger ensemble than they are. More important, even in the ordinary stereo to which I listened, the sonics appear big and robust, with perhaps a touch less depth than I would have liked but otherwise flattering to the music.

Overall, though, this one is a dicey call. Neither the performances nor the sound seems like anything particularly special to me.


To listen to a brief excerpt 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 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.

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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