Marches in Hi-Fi (XRCD review)

Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24020.

I read once that Arthur Fiedler had sold more classical albums than any conductor who ever lived. I can easily believe that, considering the man lead the Boston Pops Orchestra for something like a half a century. Nevertheless, music critics always seemed to consider Fiedler something of a lightweight when it came to classical conducting, despite his enormous experience and popularity. I suppose it was the nature of the repertoire he worked with, mostly well-loved light classics like this collection of marches for orchestra.

Fiedler recorded the present album in 1958, and it has remained a perennial favorite with music listeners ever since. In fact, among the drawbacks of the JVC audiophile remastering reviewed here is that it costs well over two or three times as much as RCA's regular "Living Stereo" issue, and it does not include an additional four marches that RCA added to their mid-price CD.

Arthur Fiedler
Another drawback is that not all of the performances on the disc seem very persuasive to me. Fiedler seems at times to be rushing through them at anything but a march tempo, as though he were in a hurry to get along with yet another project and be home in time for dinner. Among the interpretations that fared pretty well for me are those of Verdi's "Grand March" from Aida, Victor Herbert's "March of the Toys" from Babes in Toyland, Sousa's "Semper Fidelis," Robert Morse's "Up the Street," and Kenneth Alford's enduring "Colonel Bogey," featured in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai.

The conductor's rather prosaic readings of a few other items, though, didn't charm me as much: "Yankee Doodle Dandy," Meredith Wilson's "76 Trombones" from The Music Man, Morton Gould's "American Salute," and George and Ira Gershwin's "Strike Up the Band," for instance.

The JVC engineers probably brought the sound up to its best possible specs through the meticulous care they lavished in their XRCD remastering process, and when it's at its best the sound is, indeed, pretty good. Bass appears solid, highs extended, and dynamics wide. But, oddly, there doesn't seem to be a lot of depth to the orchestral field, individual instruments sometimes get spotlighted and miked too close up, with a touch of congestion crowding some of the loudest passages.

In all, the whole package--the performances and the sound--comes up a somewhat mixed bag, maybe showing its weaknesses more so than some other recordings from the era.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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