Bizet/Shchedrin: Carmen Ballet (CD review)

Also, Shostakovich: Hamlet; Glazunov: Carnaval Overture. Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Orchestra. RCA HP 09026-63308-2.

This was the first recording I heard in RCA's "High Performance" audiophile series, which they launched in the late Nineties and subsequently abandoned. Their remastering process involved 24/96 bit technology, using a customized Studer transport with Cello electronics and UV22TM Super CD encoding. It all appeared quite impressive, and I'm sure the results sounded better than much of what the company usually produced. But at the time I questioned their choice of material and never fully appreciated their sonics.

Arthur Fiedler conducted the Bizet and Shostakovich pieces vivaciously, to be sure; Fiedler was a highly underrated conductor by the music critics of his day (and maybe ours today). All they could see was that he led a "pops" orchestra, and many of them doubted he could lead a suitable interpretation of anything more serious than pop material. They were generally wrong.

Arthur Fiedler
All three works on the disc get crackerjack performances from Fiedler, especially the Carmen Ballet, in Rodion Shchedrin's quirky arrangement of Bizet's music utilizing nothing but strings and forty-seven percussion instruments. Fiedler's realization is filled with all the color, creativity, irreverence, and sly wit Shchedrin no doubt intended. Likewise with the other selections.

But it was the sound I was interested in when I listened to my first disc in this series. RCA advertised it as spectacularly wide ranging in dynamics and frequency response. When I listened, I found it in a favorable light, yet not much more so than I did any normally good recording. The sound derived from 1968 and 1969 masters, not an era for which RCA was known for its greatest sonics. The music is quiet in background, smooth, and fairly natural in overall response. However, it is also very much multi-miked and flat in its depth perspective.

Frankly, I preferred then and prefer now the sound of RCA's earlier Living Stereo discs, in spite of their occasionally rougher projection and sometimes higher noise level. Nonetheless, for readers interested in the Carmen selection, in particular, one can hardly find a better release.


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

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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