Rossini: Six Sonatas for Strings (CD review)

Antonio Janigro, I Solisti di Zagreb. Vanguard Classics SVC-144.

Here is one of my favorite old groups, I Solisti di Zagreb, led by their founder, conductor and cellist Antonio Janigro (1918-1989) performing the ever-delightful Sonatas for Strings by Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868). I could hardly recommend a set of performances more highly.

Rossini claimed much later in life that he wrote the six little sonatas for string orchestra when he was twelve years old and knew next to nothing about musical composition. Some people take him at his word; others think the old man was embroidering his youth or just plain kidding around. In any case, in the mid-twentieth century the original scores, dating from 1804, showed up in the Library of Congress, so I guess the composer wasn't kidding. Rossini rearranged the works for string quartet some time after their composition, but the chamber orchestra versions we get here are the ones we often hear these days.

Antonio Janigro
The sonatas are charming in every way, displaying the vigor and zest of youth with lovely, tranquil interludes. Of the various recordings of the chamber-ensemble scores available, only Marriner with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on Decca and I Solisti Veneti on Erato equal Janigro and his group for bringing out the most felicitous moods of the music.

Vanguard's sound derives from 1956 and 1957 recording sessions, and it is really quite excellent, very clear, very nicely delineated, thanks to the Super Bit Map remastering the company did for the 2001 rerelease. What's more, there is very little background noise, just clean, transparent sound throughout.

But here's the kicker: The first four sonatas are in monaural. I swear, I didn't even realize it until I was about twenty minutes into the disc and began wondering why the sound field seemed a tad too narrow for stereo. You see, at first I was so bowled over by the clarity of the sonics, I didn't even notice the lack of stereo spread. Then, I thought, this is so clear and so narrow, I wonder if it isn't the quartet edition after all. Finally, I read a small notation on the back of the jewel box that notified me of the truth. The mono should not deter anyone. The fact is, the monaural tracks are just as transparent than the stereo ones and one hardly notices their narrow spread. The whole package really is a lovely listening experience.


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.

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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