Pops Stoppers (CD review)

Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Orchestra. RCA 09026-63304-2.

Here's another of those jaw-dropping recordings that make one stop and say, "How'd they do that over fifty years ago?" The answer is that the engineers of this "Living Stereo" offering from 1958 didn't know any better than to use relatively simple miking techniques.

By coincidence, I listened to this 1999 release the morning after I attended a concert with Kent Nagano conducting at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. I was immediately struck by how much this disc sounded like the real thing. (About once a month is as often as I get to hear live music, not nearly as much as I'd like. Audiophiles might want to listen even more often, just to learn what they're missing.) Maybe it was the seats we had had the night before and the fact that this recording struck just the right ambiance to duplicate the previous night's listening, I don't know.

Arthur Fiedler
In any event, the sound, recorded in 1958 by Richard Mohr and Lewis Layton, is close to real, but don't expect an audiophile's dream. It isn't. The midrange lacks ultimate clarity, the lower treble lacks a bit of sparkle, and the background noise, some of it from the musicians themselves, is occasionally noticeable. But mark the overall musicality, the breadth and depth of the orchestral picture, the proper resonance, the wide dynamics, and the deep bass. It simply sounds like real music.

Not all of the brief pieces on the disc come off sounding as persuasive as others, however. This is definitely a varied "pops" affair. Among the best tracks are the opening number, Gade's tango "Jealousie," Waldteufel's "The Skaters' Waltz," Liszt's "Liebestraum," Chabrier's "Espana," and especially Sibelius's "Alla Marcia."

Among those that do not fare as well are Ketelbey's "In a Persian Market," the "baksheesh" chorus sounding rough and ill placed; Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," odd considering Fiedler must have known it backwards; and the Scherzo from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Nevertheless, these are minor glitches in an otherwise fine set of sonic accomplishments. It hasn't the glitter or glamour of Fiedler's celebrated recording of Gaite parisienne from a few years earlier, but it's just as musical in its own slightly different way.

JJP

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.

Contact Information

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

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

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa