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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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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa