Serebrier: Last Tango Before Sunrise (CD review)

Jose Serebrier, Malaga Philharmonic Orchestra; Nestor Torres, flute; Sara Cutler, harp; Nadia Shpachenko, piano; Ilia Melikhov, Gnessin Percussion Ensemble, Moscow; Gabriel Goni-Dondi, flute; Solene Le Van, soprano. Reference Recordings FR-743.

By John J. Puccio

Most classical music fans know Jose Serebrier as a world-class conductor, but not everyone may know that he is also a composer. The present disc hopes to rectify that situation by showcasing nine of his compositions, several of them world-premiere recordings.

For those readers who need a little more information, a booklet note helps out. Maestro Serebrier, “who is one of the most frequently recorded conductors, established himself as a significant composer since his teens, when Leopold Stokowski premiered the 17 year old’s First Symphony to replace the premiere of the Ives 4th Symphony. Serebrier was born in 1938 in Montevideo, Uruguay of Russian and Polish parents. At the age of nine he began to study violin, and at age eleven made his conducting debut. While in high school he organized and conducted the first youth orchestra in Uruguay, which toured and gave more than one hundred concerts over four years.” Serebrier would go on to write numerous other works, and critic Alfred Frankenstein wrote in High Fidelity magazine that Serebrier was “the logical successor to the crown of Villa-Lobos, and the South American to watch.” For the 1968-70 seasons, George Szell named Serebrier the Cleveland Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence. And so it has gone, with Serebrier winning awards and the adulation of fans worldwide for his music and music-making.

The first two items on the program are among the longest, starting with the Symphony for Percussion, written in 1961 and played by the Gnessin Percussion Ensemble, Moscow, directed by Ilia Melikhov. This one is fun, with drums and cymbals and such coming at us from all angles. Oddly, this is the first CD recording of the piece, its first recording having been done for LP. Whatever, it’s quite entertaining, and I doubt any future recordings will match it for performance or sound.

Next is Serebrier’s Piano Sonata, written in 1957 and premiered by Rudolf Serkin a year later. Here, it is played by pianist Nadia Shpachenko. Although it’s been performed numerous times around the world, this is its first recording. Its “Latin-sounding rhythms” are well served by Ms. Shpachenko, who plays it with a trenchant, clearheaded mind-set and a deft set of fingers.

The final seven selections are briefer than the first two. These include Danza (from the Flute Concerto with Tango); Tango in Blue; Candombe (a world premiere recording); Almost a Tango; Last Tango Before Sunrise; Samson and Buddah (another world premiere recording); and Colores Magicos (also a world-premiere recording). Of these, all of which I enjoyed, I liked Danza best of all. I’m no expert in tango music, but this one is playful, rhythmic, dynamic, and wholly captivating. Serebrier describes the title piece, Last Tango Before Sunrise, as intending “to stimulate the spirit of the tango, more for reflection than the dance floor.” The Colores Magicos (“Magic Colors”) is undoubtedly the most intriguing (and evocative) work on the program, as well as one of the longest at about thirteen minutes, so it’s appropriate that it closes the show.

The disc’s producers were Julio Bague and Mary Megan Peer of Peer-Southern Productions, Inc. and Marcia Gordon Martin of Reference Recordings. The various selections were recorded in 2019 and 2020 at various locations including Spain, Russia, New York, and California.

Given the diverse nature of the recording locations, the sound the engineers obtained is remarkably consistent. Of course, starting with the percussion piece helps, since the sound is sharply etched, spaciously dimensional, and markedly dynamic. The solo piano in the sonata is also cleanly rendered and should delight piano fans. All the items on the disc sound realistic, well balanced, lucid, and wide ranging, including the Malaga Philharmonic. Maybe Reference Recordings did not record this album directly, but be assured it lives up to some of the best things they’ve done.

JJP

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 both its equipment and recordings 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 they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, 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 Writer

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. 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 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. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet DAC/preamp/crossover, Tandberg 2016A and Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

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

Contact Information

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa