Jan 21, 2018

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto (XRCD review)

Also, Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1. Itzhak Perlman, violin; Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra. ARC ARCXRCD805, remastered.

Because the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is one of the most-popular violin concertos ever written, maybe the most popular, practically every major violinist in the world has recorded it. So, there is a huge selection of recordings of it in the catalogue, most of them pretty good. Still, I have always found Itzhak Perlman's 1972 recording with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra as good as any and better than most. Now, we find it in a modern audiophile remastering, making it better than ever. At least, for those with deep pockets.

German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) premiered his Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 in 1845, and it would be his final large orchestral work. Audiences pretty much loved it at the time, and it has continued to be one of the staples of the violin repertoire ever since.

Because the Mendelssohn concerto is "nobly poised between romantic and classic" as W.A. Chislett writes in a booklet note, that's the way Perlman plays it, with an expressive romantic flair and a classic restraint and refinement. And unlike many competing versions on record, the soloist and the orchestra are on equal terms, neither actually dominating the other. Previn is a fine interpreter of Mendelssohn, anyway, and the LSO provide a warm, illuminating, and thoroughly captivating accompaniment for Perlman. Yes, you will find more vigorous accounts of the music, more vivacious ones, and more sweetly flowing ones, but you will be hard pressed to find one that sounds more totally attuned to the charms of Mendelssohn. It simply sounds "right," as fresh and scintillating as the day Perlman and his fellow players recorded it.

Itzhak Perlman
As a coupling, Perlman chose to do the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 by German composer and conductor Max Bruch (1838-1920). Bruch premiered a revised version in 1867, and it, too, like the Mendelssohn, has become a staple of the violin repertoire. Perlman and Previn play it in a traditional manner, with no exaggerated tempos, pauses, or contrasts. Perlman's playing is engaging, too, nuanced yet lively, giving the music all the enchantment and vivacity it needs. Moreover, the LSO were in peak form, providing Perlman a strong accompaniment.

The Bruch has a curious first movement, a Vorspiel (or Prelude) leading directly to the second movement. This Vorspiel is like a slow march, with some ornamental flourishes along the way. The second-movement is an Adagio, the heart of the work with its beautiful melodies, broadly sweeping themes, and graceful orchestral accompaniment. The piece ends with a Finale that begins quietly until the violin opens up with a vivacious theme in the form of a dance, which along with its lyricism reminds us of its Romantic origins, culminating in a grand climax. Anyway, as I say, Perlman, Previn, and the LSO do it up as well as anyone.

EMI producer Suvi Raj Grubb and engineer Robert Grooch recorded the concertos at Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, in November 1972. Tohru Kotetsu remastered the original tapes at the JVC Mastering Center, Japan, for the Associated Recordings Company (ARC). The JVC team used meticulous XRCD24/K2 technology to assure the finest quality reproduction currently available for CD playback.

I had on hand for comparison another remastering of the same recording, this one also from Japan (Toshiba-EMI), though not in the XRCD format. The older Toshiba remaster seemed to me at the time marginally better, clearer and cleaner, than the regular EMI (currently Warner) product. Now, the JVC/ARC XRCD24 production is even clearer and cleaner than the older Japanese remastering, albeit at substantially higher cost. Is it for everyone? Of course not. It's for audiophiles who already love this particular recording and want the very best-sounding version of it. To that end, the JVC/ARC XRCD24 fills the bill.

Compared to the Toshiba-EMI product, the JVC/ARC disc sounds tighter, better defined, slightly more detailed, stronger, smoother, and fuller. Are the differences major? No, they're small but noticeable, at least in side-by-side comparison. Are they worth the extra money? That's up to the individual, not for me to decide. In any case, the sound in both versions revealed excellent balance, a superb reproduction of the soloist, well centered and not too far in front of the orchestra, with good response at both ends of the frequency spectrum. It's a fine recording made better by excellent processing.

You can find ARC products at some of the best prices at Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/

JJP

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. It will be published after review.

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

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 Jon 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 for 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 Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings 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 they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. 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 tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.


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

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa