Schumann/Dvorak Cello Concerti (CD review)

Carmine Miranda, cello; Petr Vronsky, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra. Navona Records NV6034.

You've probably heard me ask this before but the question bears repeating: How does the average music buyer keep up with all the new and upcoming young artists there are in the classical field? I mean, for over forty years I've been lucky enough to receive promotional discs or at least monthly release sheets from virtually every classical record company in the world, yet every month there are still names that pop up who are apparently famous to everyone but me. A name like Carmine Miranda, for instance.

Of course, my being a certain age, the first person I thought of when I saw the name was Carmen Miranda, the "Brazilian Bombshell" actress and singer of the 1930's and 40's. But nope; this is Carmine Filippo Miranda, the Venezuelan-American cellist, soloist, and recording artist who was born in Valencia, Spain in 1988 to Italian immigrants and who moved to the United States at an early age, winning awards galore before recording several albums. The current disc is the young cello player's first concerto recording, and while competition in Schumann/Dvorak repertoire is intense, he does a decent job keeping up with his rivals.

In fact, in the Schumann concerto he practically dominates the field. It's in the more well-known Dvorak concerto that he runs into a little trouble, with people like Starker (Mercury), Gendron (HDTT), Wallfisch (Chandos), Rostropovich (DG), and Ma (Sony) tending to overshadow him. Still, with a fine-sounding recording, a highly personal approach, and veteran conductor Petr Vronsky and the Moravian Philharmonic accompanying him, Miranda is worth one's consideration.

Miranda begins the program with his interpretation of the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 129 by German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856). It's something of an odd work, written in the traditional three movements but played without interruption. Because of its many fits and starts and because Schumann wrote it at the end of his career, most people consider it an erratic product of the composer's agitated mental state at the time (he died shortly afterward in an asylum). Most people. Not so Mr. Miranda, however. He sees the work as a kind of cryptographic love letter from the composer to his wife, a testament, says Miranda, of his "desire to unify himself with his wife through music. His ability to clearly and carefully infuse meaning into every section of the entire piece is impressive."

Carmine Miranda
As such, Miranda plays the piece as lyrically, as rhapsodically, as romantically as possible, which may leave some listeners a bit confused but certainly adds to the charm of the music. Miranda works to its fullest the idea of the score being a love poem to Clara Schumann, the cellist's interpretation producing a sweet, soaringly beautiful realization. This is evident from the very outset when the cello speaks eloquently, plaintively to the orchestra (whom, one supposes, represents Clara), and especially in the second movement, which is heart-meltingly moving. It's basically a romantic conversation between the two, and it comes off quite vividly, almost as if you could hear the words they're speaking to one another.

It helps, too, that Miranda produces a lovely string tone, rich and expressive, and that the orchestra under Vronsky accompany him with their own emphatic and sympathetic gestures. It's a fine group effort all the way around.

Then we come to the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, Op. 104 by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). As I said a couple of paragraphs above, there is intense competition in the field, and Miranda doesn't really add much with his performance that we haven't heard before.

The Dvorak contains a plentiful supply of tunes, giving Miranda a lot of room to display his talents.
Yet, beyond the cellist's obvious virtuosity, he seems content merely to play the notes, giving us a realization of poise and dexterity but little real inspiration. While tempos appear about average for this music, the speeds seem slower somehow. Perhaps it's because of the lack of energy behind both the orchestra and the soloist that nothing comes off with as much punch or authority as one might like.

Anyway, the highlight of this album is the Schumann, which often takes one's breath away with its gently passionate interplay. There are already enough recordings of the Dvorak concerto, anyhow.

Producer Vit Muzik and engineers Jan Kosulic and Ales Dvorak recorded the album at Reduta Hall, Olomouc, Czech Republic in June 2015. The sound is very clean, super clean in fact, with excellent detail and definition. The depth of image appears somewhat limited by the closeness of the recording, but it's hardly an issue when the rest of the sound is so good. The cello also seems somewhat too close compared to the rest of the ensemble, but, again, not really an issue. The cello tone I described earlier shows up to it fullest and sounds most realistic.


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

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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 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 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.

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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