Fucik: A Festival of Fucik (SACD review)

Neeme Jarvi, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Chandos CHSA 5158.

If you're not quite sure about the name Julius Ernst Wilhelm Fucik (1872-1916), it would probably take you no more than a couple of seconds into the "Entry of the Gladiators" to recognize the music. Oh, yes, Barnum & Bailey, to be sure.

Fucik was a Czech composer as well as conductor of military bands, with marches, polkas, and waltzes his specialties. Bands still play his music, although symphony orchestras seem to overlook him, probably because much of his work is, frankly, less than subtle and not particularly innovative. Maestro Neeme Jarvi and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, however, attempt to rectify the situation somewhat with this collection of fourteen of Fucik's most-popular pieces, including the aforementioned "Gladiators" as well as the "Florentine" march and "The Old Grumbler."

The subject matter may be lightweight, but Jarvi and company embrace it with good-hearted enthusiasm and make the most of what they have. I must admit, though, that Jarvi's view of Fucik may be a tad too enthusiastic for some listeners. The Fucik disc of tunes I've had on the shelf for years is one by Vaclav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic on Teldec, which sounds a fair bit more refined than Jarvi's, if not quite so exciting. They make a nice contrasting pair, the Neumann disc taming Fuck's typical bombast more than Jarvi's recording, while Jarvi goes more hell-bent-for-leather in sound as well as performance.

If you think any of this might interest you, the track list goes as follows:

  1. Marinarella, Op. 215
  2. Onkel Teddy (Uncle Teddy), Op. 239 (version for orchestra)
  3. Donausagen, Op. 233: Andantino
  4. Donausagen, Op. 233: I. Tempo di valse
  5. Donausagen, Op. 233: II. Con dolcezza
  6. Donausagen, Op. 233: III
  7. Donausagen, Op. 233: Coda
  8. Die lustigen Dorfschmiede (The Merry Blacksmiths), Op. 218
  9. Der alte Brummbar (The Old Grumbler), Op. 210
10. Einzug der Gladiatoren (The Entry of the Gladiators), Op. 68, "Triumph March"
11. Miramare, Op. 247
12. Florentiner Marsch (Florentine March), Op. 214, "Grande marcia Italiana"
13. Wintersturme (Winter Storms), Op. 184 (arr. P. Stanek for orchestra)
14. Hercegovac, Op. 235
15. Regimentskinder (Children of the Regiment), Op. 169
16. Ballettratten, Op. 226: Allegretto
17. Ballettratten, Op. 226: I. Tempo di valse
18. Ballettratten, Op. 226: II. Meno con delicatezza
19. Ballettratten, Op. 226: III. Meno mosso
20. Ballettratten, Op. 226: Coda
21. The Mississippi River, Op. 160
22. Unter der Admiralsflagge (Under the Admiral's Flag), Op. 82

Neeme Jarvi
All of the selections are brief, three-to-five minutes apiece, with the exceptions of "Danube Legends" and "Little Ballerina," which have five sections each.

The Scottish orchestra plays them with finesse, despite the sometimes rowdy nature of the music, and the musicians are especially felicitous during the softer, gentler interludes (and almost every selection has such quieter moments, believe it or not).

My own favorites include the "Marinarella" overture that opens the program for the grace intermixed with its thrills; the march "Uncle Teddy" for its Sousa-like swagger; "Danube Legends" for its lilting (and for me familiar) waltz tunes; "The Old Grumbler" for its humorous bassoon solo; of course, "The Entry of the Gladiators," also known as "Thunder and Blazes," here given an invigorating workout; and the "Florentine March," also enthusiastically handled.

Although there is not a lot of substance to these pieces, Jarvi finds the sparkle and merriment in each selection and capitalizes on it. For march and waltz fans, it's not a bad collection, particularly when Chandos recorded it so well.

Producer Brian Pidgeon and sound engineer Ralph Couzens made the recording at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland in February 2015. They made it for hybrid SACD and CD playback in multichannel and two-channel stereo. I listened to the SACD two-channel layer.

As we might expect from Chandos and Couzens, the sound is quite natural, quite robust, and quite dynamic. The lower midrange and bass have a real heft, the transient impact is palpable, and the ambient bloom of the hall is always in evidence. The engineers appear to have set up the microphones at a moderate distance, so we get a fairly lifelike response from a listening distance not too close up, with a good depth of field, as well. The engineers give up a little in the way of ultimate transparency for a feeling of being in the auditorium with the musicians.


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 Jon 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 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa