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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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.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa