Rossini: Overtures (HQCD review)

Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra. HDTT HQCD420.

This one takes me back well over fifty years. Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony recorded these Rossini overtures for RCA in 1958, and I remember buying it in high school, probably a couple of years after its release. It was my first record of Rossini overtures, and I still value it among the best available.

The trouble was, when the CD era began in the early Eighties, I figured RCA would reissue the set in even better sound than on the LP, but it didn't happen. Their CD sonics didn't live up to the old LP's. I waited, and when RCA started re-releasing things in their "Living Stereo" line, I had high hopes for the Rossini. That didn't happen, either; it never showed up. So, I tried several European imports, including the one I finally wound up with, a Sony DSD-remastered disc, with which I still wasn't entirely happy. Now, HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) have remastered it, and for the first time since the old vinyl days, I'm happy with the sound again.

More about the audio in a minute. Right now, let me say a few words about the performances. The six overtures on Reiner's album are The Barber of Seville, La Gazza Ladra, La Cenerentola, William Tell, La Scala di Seta, and Il Signor Brushino.

The first thing you'll want to know about Reiner's Rossini is that it's big. Really big. Full-scale big. When Neville Marriner released his streamlined performances of the overtures years later, they seemed like a genuine revelation, presented in something closer to Rossini's intentions. Then any number of further recordings followed by various chamber orchestras, my favorites being those from the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra as well as Marriner on modern instruments and Roger Norrington and his band on period instruments, among others. But these releases never diminished my appreciation for Reiner's work. His full orchestral versions come in the lushest possible sound and still sound magnificent. Whether the historical-accuracy crowd like them or not is beside the point. You have to listen to them and decide for yourself.

For me, Reiner represents everything that's good about Rossini. His interpretations of the Rossini overtures are as exciting, as lyrical, and as charming as any you'll find on record. Reiner may have coaxed (or forced) an extremely plush, opulent, luxurious sound from the magnificent Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but it is always at the service of the music. Nothing ever sags or slouches for a moment, the music continually moving forward in perfectly judged tempos, contrasts, pauses, and other nuances. If Reiner's Rossini doesn't have your fingers and toes tapping, nothing will.

Fritz Reiner
The opening Barber of Seville overture is a good example. Once you've heard Reiner's version, you won't be able to imagine it done any other way. It's glorious. The precision of so large an ensemble as the CSO is remarkable, and the ability of Reiner to obtain such detail from the group is nothing short of amazing.

Needless to say, the acoustics of Chicago Symphony Hall and RCA's recording geniuses only reinforced the best in Reiner's performances, and few record companies have equalled the sound they obtained even to this day.

RCA's celebrated team of producer Richard Mohr and engineer Lewis Layton originally recorded the overtures at Chicago Symphony Hall in November 1958, and HDTT remastered the recording from an RCA 4-track tape in 2015. I did my listening in two sessions: First, just to the music; then, in comparison to the Sony DSD-remastered import I had on hand. The Sony, as I already mentioned, was the best version of the recording I could previously find. Now, the HDTT is king of the hill. Of course, I can't tell you which version is more faithful to the master tape; I don't have access to the master tape for making that judgment. I can only tell you which version I liked best, and by comparison to Sony's remaster, the HQCD remaster sounds richer, fuller, quieter, more effortless, and more natural to me. Yes, by any standard it's really good. The Sony remaster is slightly brighter, thinner, edgier, and a bit more hissy at the top end. HDTT's noise reduction has perhaps dimmed the top end the tiniest bit, but it's only in direct comparison that a listener would notice any difference at all.

The HDTT-remastered sonics are velvety smooth and very broad across the sound stage, with a dynamic range that is almost off the charts. Be prepared for some really big crescendos, followed by some very low-output sections that might drive you a little nutso for a while trying to find a good compromise gain setting. Still, the ear and mind adjust fairly quickly, and then the disc will treat you not only to wide dynamics but to very strong impact, very quick transient response, and very good orchestral depth. It makes for a lively, lifelike presentation that surely matches the sound of the orchestra live.

For further information on HDTT's various configurations, formats (CD, HQCD, FLAC, DSD, DVD-24, DVD-24, etc.), and prices, you can visit their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com.

JJP

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.

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa