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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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa