Sarasate: Carmen-Fantasie (SACD review)

Also, Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen; Tartini: "Devil's Trill"; Ravel: Tzigane, Massenet: "Meditation"; Faure: Berceuse. Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin; James Levine, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 00289 477 5721.

When SACD came out in 1999, any number of record companies jumped on it, many of them in an effort to repackage some of their older material in the new format. Hybrid Super Audio Compact Discs have, after all, the potential for reproducing multiple channels, not just two channels like regular CDs and, because of their greater storage capacity, reproduce things on the SACD layer in what is theoretically better sound. The discs, as you know, have several layers, enabling them, for instance, to include multitrack SACD recordings and two-channel SACD recordings on a high-density layer and conventional two-channel CD recordings on a separate layer. Such is the case with this 2005 DG release of Anne-Sophie Mutter, James Levine, and the Vienna Philharmonic playing, among other things, Pablo de Sarasate's Carmen-Fantasie.

DG initially made the recording in 1992, issuing it in 1993 only on CD in regular two-track stereo. But with the advent of SACD, the company went back into the vaults for the original multichannel tracks and transferred them to this hybrid surround-sound SACD, along with SACD stereo and CD stereo versions as well. But first, the music.

Ms. Mutter was a child prodigy who proved herself one of the world's foremost violinists. While she usually tackles things heavier than the material on this disc, it's a pleasure to hear her let her hair down, so to speak. The Carmen-Fantasie is delightful, as are the other popular favorites that accompany it: Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, Tartini's "Devil's Trill," Ravel's Tzigane, Massenet's "Meditation" from Thais, and Faure's Berceuse. Although Ms. Mutter's account of the Sarasate piece may not display the all-out thrills of Ruggiero Ricci's famous recording with Pierino Gamba and the LSO on Decca (and remastered on JVC), it offers the elegant, refined playing that we have come to expect from her.

Anne-Sophie Mutter
The only minor snag for some listener's may be DG's actual sound; not the multiple channels (I listened only to the SACD two-channel layer from a Sony SACD player) or the possibly improved SACD audio quality, mind you, but the closeness of the miking. I can't remember hearing a more closely miked DG recording in my life. Combined with a very high output level and some extremely wide dynamics, the disc practically blows you out of your seat until you can run and adjust the volume. Even then, there is no getting around the closeness of the violin. However, this said, I have seldom heard a DG recording with more clarity and definition, either, so maybe there is compensation in all things, as Emerson said. The sonics may not be entirely natural, but they do carry an impact. Unfortunately, the impact comes mainly in the violin parts, because the orchestra sometimes gets lost in the background; nor is there much deep bass response to remind us that they are there.

Be that as it may, these are beautiful performances by a totally committed and assured artist, and the Vienna Philharmonic is still one of the world's great ensembles. If I still prefer the accounts of the Carmen-Fantasie by Itzhak Perlman on EMI (coupled with an equally good Paganini Violin Concerto) and with the aforementioned Ricci, it is only because I have enjoyed their recordings for many years and find them comfortable old friends. However, if you have an SACD player, the fun of experimenting with the various modes may be half your entertainment. Whichever way you play the Mutter disc, you'll hear a great violinist enjoying herself with some familiar old chestnuts.


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 ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa