Masterpiece II (XRCD24 review)

Touching folklore music. Mario Suzuki, guitar; Masao Okada, guitar; Miyuki Fujimoto, guitar; Susumu Nishizaki, piano. Master Music XRCD24-NT021.

First of all, I'm not sure why this 2017 album bears the title "Masterpiece II," unless it's because it follows an album guitarist Mario Suzuki made ten years earlier called "Masterpiece I." Certainly, there are no actual "masterpieces" or classics on the program unless the producers are engaging in a bit of hyperbole. Second, I'm not sure why the album bears the subtitle "Touching folklore music," since it appears Mr. Suzuki wrote all of the selections himself, thus negating the notion of folklore referring to traditional songs or stories handed down by people from generation to generation. I'm going to assume here that Mr. Suzuki is a folklorist the way Bob Dylan is a folk singer. None of which makes any difference in the least because this is a terrifically well recorded album of pleasantly performed guitar music that is sure to impress (and soothe) almost anyone.

Admittedly, I was not familiar with Mr. Suzuki before this album, so I looked up some information about him. According to Elusive Disc, "Mario Suzuki is a writer, composer and excellent guitar player! Suzuki is an extraordinary individual who you may not have heard of... but once you hear him play, he is hard to forget. Folklore guitarra is the traditional Spanish folk guitar music popular in the Spanish speaking countries in South America. It also includes contemporary guitar music which carries on much of the tradition of the folklore guitar music. It is of a completely different type either from American style modern folk music or pop folklore band music.

"Born in Tokyo, Japan in 1947 Mario Suzuki is a native of Japan. He has learned music composition and folklore guitar playing from Mr. Atsumasa Nakabayashi. He also learned folklore playing from both Jesusbenites (president of Mexican folklore guitarra association) and master folklore guitarist Eduardo Falu in Argentine. Mario has composed amazingly more than 500 pieces of folklore music."

On the present album, Mr. Suzuki plays either alone or with accompanists Masao Okada, guitar; Miyuki Fujimoto, guitar; and Susumu Nishizaki, piano. Here's a rundown of their program:

1. Journey
2. Whispering
3. Poem
4. In Breezing
5. Thinking of You
6. Cinema (New Snow Village) Theme
7. Memory Of Arashiyama
8. At Hotel La Mirador
9. Elapsed Waltz
10. Feelings
11. In Granada
12. Night Goes On
13. Remembering of You
14. Reminiscence
15. Monologue
16. Voice of Wave

Mario Suzuki
Because the booklet notes are mostly in Japanese and what aren't in Japanese are poorly translated into English, it was a little hard to get the full story on these melodies. Nevertheless, the music speaks for itself. It's quiet music, serene, tranquil, romantic, and appropriately sentimental. What's more, Suzuki plays with delicacy and finesse. The performances from all of the artists involved are fluid and graceful, caressing the music with subtlety and charm. One could hardly ask more from the performers.

While I'm still not persuaded that these tunes are quite "masterpieces," I cannot deny their peaceful beauty. Nor can I deny the audiophile quality of JVC's remastering for Master Music. I just wish the total time for the album, forty-three minutes, had been a little longer.

Producers Kazuo Kiuchi and Shizuo Nomiyama and engineer Yoshihiko Kannari recorded the music at Onkio Haus Studio (aka Onkyo House), Tokyo in November 2017. Tohru Kotetsu mastered the compact disc at JVC Mastering Center, Japan in January 2018 using XRCD24/K2 technology. A further note adds that "This album was directly recorded in half inch analog tape, 15ips. Mastered utilizing JVC 24bit AD converter with Digital K2, Rubidium clock."

That seems impressive, but does the album actually sound as good as what's written about the processing? Well, it sounds pretty good, that's for sure. Indeed, it's one of the finest-sounding guitar albums I've ever heard. The instruments have a warm, smooth, natural appearance, much like hearing them live in the room with you. Recorded on analog tape (and remastered digitally), the sound betrays no digital edge. The miking is somewhat close in order to capture a full fidelity dynamic range and transient impact, yet it's not objectionably close. The duets and trios are especially well spaced across the sound stage, and the room reflections are well judged. This is an audiophile disc, to be sure, and as such it probably sounds better in accordance with the quality of one's playback equipment.

You can find Master Music products at some of the best prices at Elusive Disc:


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 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 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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 that 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. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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