Sarasate: Opera Phantasies (SACD review)
First, a word about the artists, about whom you may not know much. Since 1989 violinist Volker Reinhold has been the concertmaster of the Mecklenburg State Orchestra, which performs operas, operettas, musicals, ballet, and concerts at the Mecklenburg State Theater in Schwerin, Germany. According to his Web site, Mr. Reinhold "has gone on to perform a wide range of solo assignments and to dedicate himself intensively to chamber music. Additionally, for some years he has often assisted as a concertmaster with several Northern German orchestras. He has a special predilection for the virtuosic violin literature, above all Fritz Kreisler and also Pablo de Sarasate. He has incorporated practically all of the former's music into his repertoire. For many years he has performed successfully with his regular piano partner Ralph Zedler." Mr. Reinhold performs on a 'Mougeot,' a French violin from the nineteenth century."
In 1999 pianist Ralph Zedler graduated from Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. He worked regularly in the singing classes of Liselotte Hammes, Klesie Kelly, Kurt Moll, Edda Moser. From the autumn of 1999 to January 2011 Mr. Zedler was engaged at the Mecklenburg State Theatre in Schwerin as soloist and Ballettrepetitor, participating in over seventy productions of opera, operetta, musical, oratorio, and ballet. Since 2011 he has worked at capital Opera, the smallest Opera Berlin devoting himself to the repertoire of forgotten one-act plays. Mr. Zedler's concert career has taken him along with prominent figures such as singers Agnes Giebel, Ulrich Hielscher, Jean van Ree, and Edda Moser.
On the present album, Reinhold and Zedler devote themselves to six of the opera fantasies of the Spanish composer and virtuoso violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). As you know, Sarasate loved to dazzle his audiences, and what better way to do so than by playing some of his own transcriptions of already famous music. The program Reinhold and Zedler present here includes concert-fantasy arrangements for violin and piano of Carmen (Bizet), Die Zauberflote (Mozart), Der Freischutz (Weber), Martha (Flotow), La forza del destino (Verdi), and Romeo et Juliette (Gounod).
First up on the agenda is Sarasate's Concert Fantasy on Bizet's Carmen, as good a curtain raiser as any. Just don't expect a whiz-bang, gung-ho interpretation along the lines of a Ruggiero Ricci in his famous old Decca set. Reinhold and Zedler are more moderate than that; they don't try to generate a ton of excitement or dazzle the listener with their pyrotechnic skills. Their Carmen Fantasy sets the tone for the rest of the program by sounding traditional, well judged, thoughtful, and expressive. Now, this doesn't mean that the musicians don't have a good time with it. Indeed, it's all quite vital and pleasantly exhilarating. They simply don't go after the "wow" factor that must be so tempting in a work like this (although, to be fair, they end the piece in a flurry of emotional flair).
And so it goes, with Reinhold's violin carrying the day and Zedler's piano accompaniment always lending firm support. I can't say I liked some of the more-literal passages they take, yet they more than make up for it with the tasteful sensitivity of their playing. As this is mostly opera music, the players ensure that we hear the singers behind the notes, the violin and piano doubling for any number of voices from quiet solos to big choral numbers.
Of all the works on the disc, I think I enjoyed the Magic Flute Fantasy best of all. There's a delicacy as well as a zest about Mozart's music that Reinhold and Zedler capture brilliantly. Here, it also becomes clear that the two performers have been collaborating for years, their parts working beautifully, seamlessly, effortlessly together.
Another thing the players do well is make these fantasies work as a whole. Under the sympathetic guidance of Reinhold and Zedler these are not merely medley pastiches of starts and stops on familiar tunes. Instead, each fantasy sounds like a self-contained work with flawless transitions to help it appear all of a piece. Fascinating.
Producers Werner Dabringhaus and Reimund Grimm and recording and mixing engineer Holger Schlegel made the album in just about every audio format you can think of on a single disc: CD, SACD, DVD, 2.0, 5.1, and 2+2+2. OK, that last one got me, too. Unfamiliar with the format and with no information about it in the accompanying booklet, I had to look it up. Turns out that 2+2+2 utilizes all six channels on an SACD layer to present music not just in two channels front and two channels back but two channels up and down as well. So 2+2+2 captures all the reflected sound of a musical event in a true three dimensions. However, I have my SACD player hooked up only in two channels, so that's the way I listened: first in two-channel SACD and then for a few minutes in regular two-channel CD. In these modes, the sound was quite good. I can only imagine how much more interesting 2+2+2 might be.
Anyway, the two-channel stereo is very dynamic, with huge outbursts from the piano especially. It's never more or less than natural, and it makes a vivid impression on the listener. The engineers have picked up the room ambience nicely, with a mild and unobtrusive resonance lending a lifelike air to the proceedings. There is also a pleasing bloom on the instruments that further lends to the realism of the presentation.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
Meet the Staff
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 Jon 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 for 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.
For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings 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 they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. 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 tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II 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.
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.
I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.
I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.
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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