Caruso 2000 (CD review)

The Digital Recordings. Enrico Caruso; Gottfried Rabi, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. RCA 74321-69766-2.

No matter whether you think Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was the greatest tenor of all time, you have to admit the idea for this album is a kick: Caruso singing with a modern symphony orchestra in full-blown stereo. What the marvels of modern digital technology can't accomplish.

RCA did these renovations in the year 2000; thus, the title of the album. They have cleaned the century-old Caruso recordings (made between 1906-1920), edited out extraneous clicks, ticks, and pops, and deleted the original, meager instrumental accompaniments altogether. Then conductor Gottfried Rabi and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra played along with the voice. The results can occasionally sound quite convincing and highly rewarding, enabling us for the first time to hear Caruso as he might actually have sounded live all those many years ago. The results can also be highly frustrating sometimes, sounding exactly like what they are, a modern orchestra playing behind old phonograph records. So, maybe the whole thing's merely a novelty; depends on your point of view.

Enrico Caruso
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the disc, even if it might drive purists mad. On most of the tracks, and in spite of anything the RCA engineers could do, Caruso's voice appears to be in an entirely different acoustic space from the orchestra. Nothing can disguise the dead, hollow, megaphone sound of the old recordings. But if one listens with a willing suspension of disbelief, the music comes off better than one might expect.

RCA included seventeen selections on the disc, among the best sounding of which are Meyerbeers's "O paradiso!" and Leoncavallo's "Vesti la giubba." As a final track, RCA provide the original version of the latter recording for comparison purposes. Yes, there is a huge difference, albeit an unfair one. RCA, after all, cleaned up the remastering (and added modern accompaniment), making the new version sound quite a bit better than the hundred-year-old one, with its thin sound and plethora of associated noises. I think we get the point.

If you are a Caruso collector, the disc is probably already in your collection. If you have avoided buying any Caruso recordings because you knew you would not be able to cope with the ancient sonics, this is your chance to hear something perhaps more pleasing to the ear. Of course, if you are happy with the old Caruso recordings just as they are, you might not appreciate these newfangled concoctions. The disparity in aural surroundings between voice and orchestra may be more distracting to you than the old originals.

In any case, there's a lot here to think about and, with an open ear, maybe a little something to enjoy.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


1 comment:

  1. What a voice, and what an artist! That particular transfer is most impressive.

    ReplyDelete

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 ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa