Showpieces & Encores (CD review)

Constantine Orbelian, Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Delos DE 3284.

Sir Thomas Beecham might have called these selections "lollipops." This 2001 release calls them "Showpieces & Encores," but I think they're closer to simple songs and encores--short, two-to-seven minute works designed to satisfy an audience's demand for a little something and maybe leaving them wanting just a little more. "Showpieces" implies to me virtuosic spectacle, and these selections seem more subdued, more low-key, than that. There are nineteen tracks in all, some familiar, some not, many featuring solo players on violin, viola, cello, or flute, and five "Armenian Folk Songs" getting the bulk of the love.

Constantine Orbelian
The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, about twenty players and their leader, American-born Constantine Orbelian, as always perform with elegance and refinement, qualities that show up admirably in things like Tchaikovsky's Waltz from the Serenade for Strings, Gershwin's "Summertime," Rachmaninov's Vocalise, and, especially, Frank Bridge's Valse-Intermezzo.

Still, I wish Orbelian and his group had let loose a little more, put a little additional fire into some of the music. We see glimmers of lively animation in Shostakovich's Spanish Dance, but most often Orbelian is content to demonstrate to us the beauty and grace of the compositions. Fair enough. I also enjoyed his scattering among the more popular choices a few lesser-known Russian favorites like Sinisalo's "Three Russian Folk Songs" and other tunes like "The Moon Is Shining" and "The Rush Light." The performances appear more than just polished, however; they display a sense of loving care and genuine affection that is hard to resist.

The cover picture shows the orchestra in Moscow, but, in fact, Delos made the recording at Skywalker Ranch, in the sound building at what was then George Lucas's place (now Disney's) in Marin County, California. It's good sound, my only quibbles being that there is a touch of brightness from time to time and the occasional soloist seems a mite too close compared to the rest of the players. Otherwise, there is good detail; a soft, warm, natural ambiance; and a moderate depth to the sonics.

It's a lovely, if perhaps redundant, collection from an impressive group of musicians.


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