Anne Akiko Meyers: Fantasia (CD review)

Music of Rautavaara, Szymanowski, and Ravel. Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Kristjan Jarvi, Philharmonia Orchestra. Avie Records 2385.

Ever since I first heard violinist Anne Akiko Meyers some twenty years ago (as she was a child prodigy, she was already an established musician by that time), I sensed something special. Her playing radiated a sweet, gentle quality that was extremely calming and reassuring. With this album, Fantasia, she performs music that seems tailor-made for her, in the case of Rautavaara work, literally. And Maestro Kristjan Jarvi and London's Philharmonia Orchestra accompany her with the utmost in ravishing, sympathetic support. The album makes a winning combination.

The first selection on the program is called Fantasia, written on a commission from Ms. Meyers by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016). It was Rautavaara's last completed score, done the year before his death. As this was the music's first recording and he wrote it for Ms. Meyers, we will have to accept it as authoritative; not that I think anyone could do any better with it. It's a sweet, tuneful, Romantically inflected work, reminiscent to me of Ralph Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending." As usual, Ms. Meyers plays with exactly the right touch and nuance to do justice to the score's enchanting beauty.

The second selection is the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 by Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). He wrote it in 1916, right at the start of the modern era of classical music, and it shows, eschewing some but not all of the Romantic overtones of the concertos coming before it and displaying a good deal of French impressionism as well. What's more, and despite its sometimes going against the grain of the age, it remains one of Szymanowski's most-popular pieces.

Anne Akiko Meyers
The opening passage of the concerto reflects its delicacy, conjuring up poetic images of the line that inspired it: "fireflies kiss the wild rose." It's a lovely piece of music, with evidence of Debussy and Ravel, making it the perfect vehicle to display Ms. Meyers's intricate and expressive technique. I also hear hints of the exoticism of Rimsky-Korsakov in the second and third movements, too, and the charming lilt and dance of Mendelssohn. To say Ms. Meyers does the music justice is an understatement.

The final piece on the program is probably the most well known: "Tzigane" by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), a work Ravel premiered in 1924. Like Rautavaara's Fantasia, "Tzigane" is a brief, rhapsodic piece, although, as "Tzigane" means "gypsy," the latter has a more gypsy-like character to it. Ms. Meyers captures the mood of the piece, although she doesn't impress with it quite as much as she does in the preceding works, perhaps because the Ravel music is more commonly recorded. Repetition kind of dulls one's appreciation for a new rendering; however, rest assured that Ms. Meyers does it as well as anyone. Ravel, after all, meant the score as a virtuosic showpiece, and Ms. Meyers plays it in her own sensitively virtuosic style.

Producer Anne Akiko Meyers and engineer Silas Brown recorded the music at London Air Studios in May 2016. The sound is most realistic, especially in the placement of the violin just slightly in front of the orchestra but not in our face. This soloist-orchestral integration is further enhanced by the mildly pleasant ambience of the studio setting, which just slightly reflects some reverberant bloom. The frequency response is neutral, the dynamics more than adequate for the occasion, and the instrumental detailing about what one would expect to hear from a tenth-row center seat in a real concert hall. It's all quite pleasant.


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

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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 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