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.

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.

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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.

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