Alla Zingarese (CD review)

A fusion of Western classical and gypsy music. Civitas Ensemble; Pavel Sporcl and the Gipsy Way Ensemble. Cedille CDR 90000 179 (2-CD set).

First things first: Who are the two ensembles involved? The Civitas Ensemble are, according the booklet note, four of Chicago's top musicians--Yuan-Quig Yu (violin), Kenneth Olsen (cello), Winston Choi (piano), and Lawrie Bloom (clarinet)--who formed in 2011 as a chamber music group dedicated to presenting "engaging live performances of new and traditional works, inspiring a young generation of classical musicians, and bringing the healing power of music to those with limited access to live performances."

Pavel Sporcl "is one of the world's most prolific violinists and high-profile recording artists." In 2008, "he started playing with Gypsy musicians and later formed Gipsy Way Ensemble, who have stayed in its current formation since 2012, with Ensemble members Zoltan Sandor, viola; Jan Rigo, double bass; and Tomas Vontszemu, cimbalom." Together, they have played all over the world, and in 2015 Sporcl's civic-minded approach and advocacy for classical music earned him the Czech Republic's Medal of Merit.

And what's with the title, "Alla Zingarese"? Well, "All Gypsy," for starters, or, better, "In the Style of Gypsy Music." However, the selections aren't quite all gypsy, as we hear many of them in arrangements by various non-gypsy people, thus making them as the inside cover notes "a fusion of Western classical and gypsy music...an exploration of what happens when distinct cultural and musical traditions join together."

Here's a rundown on the program:

Disc One:
(Civitas and Gipsy Way Ensembles)
1. Johannes Brahms (arr. Lukas Sommer):
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor
2. Georges Boulanger (arr. Lukas Sommer):
Sérénade Tzigane
3. Jeno Hubay (arr. Pavel Sporcl and Lukas Sommer):
"Hullámzó Balaton," Scène de la Csárda No. 5, Op. 33
4. Pablo de Sarasate (arr. Lukas Sommer):
Zigeunerweisen
5. Lukas Sommer:
Gipsy Odyssey
6. Pavel Sporcl:
Gipsy Fire
7. Brahms: Rondo alla Zingarese

Disc Two:
(Civitas Ensemble)
1. Sylvie Borodova:
Dža More for Solo Violin
2. Franz Liszt:
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C- sharp minor
3. Lukas Sommer:
Cigi-Civi
4. Leó Weiner:
Peregi Verbunk for Clarinet and Piano
5. David Popper:
Hungarian Rhapsody, Op. 68 for Cello and Piano
6. George Enescu (arr. Cliff Colnot):
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1

Civitas Ensemble
As noted above, the music is a blend of traditional gypsy tunes and classical instruments and playing techniques. The opening arrangement of the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1 is a good example. One can sense both its classical and folk roots, with instrumentation to complement both sides. Of course, whether this kind of crossover material will appeal to either camp is open to question. The point is that the music can be infectious and highly entertaining if you give it a chance. I'm not sure it's trying to make any point, except, perhaps, that every musical medium can be fun, even when they're mixed.

Anyway, I found the entire album captivating, and I especially liked the use of the cimbalom, a type of zither or dulcimer. I found myself wanting to hear more of it. If I really had to choose, though, I think I enjoyed the selections by the two groups together best of all, if only for the added richness of the sound they produced. Still, all of this music is addictive, rollicking, yet sensitively performed by musicians who obviously cherish what they're playing.

Producers Steve Rodby and James Ginsburg and Cedille's ace engineer Bill Maylone recorded the album at the Chicago Recording Company in May 2017 and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago in August and September 2017. The resultant sound is smooth and warm, with enough resonance for comfortable listening and enough transparency for good detailing. These are small ensembles, so each player stands out in clear relief, yet not so vividly as to seem unreal. As always with Cedille, the sound is natural, realistic, as opposed to overtly audiophile.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa