Great Comedy Overtures (CD review)

Lance Friedel, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.573418.

The best place to begin a review of an album titled Great Comedy Overtures would probably be with a definition of "comedy." My Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines the term as "a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion." Not that there aren't comic operas that are pretty funny, but the emphasis for opera might be on the idea of triumph over adversity, with a successful or happy ending.

Such is the case with the eleven selections in the album under review, selections that include just about every famous comedy overture you can think of, all of them vigorously presented by Maestro Lance Friedel and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. A look at the track titles will give you the idea of the material:

1. Herold: Zampa
2. Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor
3. Wolf-Ferrari: Il segreto di Susanna
4. Thomas: Mignon
5. Reznicek: Donna Diana
6. Flotow: Martha
7. Auber: Fra Diavolo
8. Lortzing: Zar und Zimmermann
9. Cimarosa: Il matrimonio segreto
10. Adam: Si j'etais roi
11. Cornelius: Der Barbier von Bagdad (arr. F. Mottl for orchestra)

Lance Friedel
Maestro Friedel and his Scottish orchestra attack each overture with a commendable enthusiasm. The composers of these pieces meant them, after all, as curtain raisers. They should get our attention, and they do. However, I can't say we really needed another album of overtures, nor can I say that Friedel injects them with as much creative nuance as I've heard. While the music moves right along at a healthy gait, it never seems to catch fire and inspire or thrill one as it might. Nevertheless, these are personal quibbles, and one cannot deny that Friedel and company offer the tunes in a most serviceable fashion.

Favorites? Under Maestro Friedel, Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor has a lovely romantic spirit in its opening and a lively bounce in the Allegro section. Wolf-Ferrari's Il segreto di Susanna probably has the most-charming spirit of the bunch. Thomas's Mignon sounds most elegant. Since I grew up with Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, how could I fail to like Reznicek's Donna Dianna? Auber's Fra Diavolo shows plenty of spunk. And there's an appealing lightheartedness about Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto.

The total playing time for the disc is nearly eighty minutes (79:44), a most-generous number that approaches the limit of a standard CD.

Producer Tim Handley and engineer Phil Rowlands recorded the album at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland in January 2014. The producers seem to have miked this one for maximum realism rather than any kind of close-up clarity. The result is a little different and does, indeed, sound fairly lifelike. The orchestra shows up at a moderate distance, with lots of hall resonance to give it a properly natural bloom. Although detailing suffers somewhat and the sound appears a bit narrower and more muted than we usually hear from most modern recordings, there is a good depth of field and some strong dynamics involved.


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 over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine 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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa