The Suite (CD review)

Music of Telemann, Bach, Elizondo, and Green. Orlando Cela, The Lowell Chamber Orchestra. Navona NV6324.

By John J. Puccio

“Suite: Music
a. An instrumental composition, especially of the 1600s or 1700s, consisting of a succession of dances in the same or related keys.
b. An instrumental composition consisting of a series of varying movements or pieces.” --American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

Apparently, the folks at Navona Records want to let you know that the dance suite of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is still alive and well today, and on the current disc they include four composers of dance suites from the past and present. Maestro Orlando Cela conducts The Lowell Chamber Orchestra in suites by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Jose Elizondo (b. 1972), and Anthony R. Green (b. 1984).

In the event you are unfamiliar with Mr. Cela, he is both a flutist and conductor, premiering over 200 new works. He currently serves as the Music Director of the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestra of the North Carolina Governor’s School. He has also guest conducted the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, the London Classical Soloists, the Marquette Symphony Orchestra, and others. He created the Ningbo Symphony Orchestra during his year as visiting professor at Ningbo University in China.

As for The Lowell Chamber Orchestra, they are the first and only professional orchestra in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Their Web site explains that they “provide the area with an ensemble that presents music at a very high level, of all styles and time periods, entirely free to the general population.”

Anyway, the selections on the disc are ordered chronologically, so things begin with the six-movement Overture Suite in E minor by Telemann. A booklet note tells us that Telemann composed some 138 known overture suites, and they are probably only a fraction of the number he actually wrote. So now you know why the album begins with Telemann. The Lowell Chamber Orchestra play all the pieces with a graceful affection, and Maestro Cela leads them with a deft and lively touch.

Next is probably the most-famous item on the program, the seven-movement Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor by Bach. As the Second Suite has the least orchestration of the four that Bach wrote, it suits the Lowell players well. They present a lean, trim account of the music, stylish without being stuffy. I was particularly struck by the Polonaise and Minuett, which sound splendidly regal, yet not overly sedate. They offer excellent poise and symmetry.

Then we come to the modern pieces, starting with Recuerdos Estivos (“Summer Memories”), a three-movement work by Elizondo. The nice thing here is that the pieces don’t sound entirely out of place with the rest of the program of early music. In fact, Elizondo’s suite is light, relaxed, and tuneful, a kind of throwback to more Romantic times. Well, I suppose the title should have told us that; we get suggestions of Frederick Delius here, maybe “Summer Night on the River,” although not quite so meandering. Then the work ends with a movement that sounds as if we were back with Telemann. While the whole thing may appear insubstantial, it’s altogether delightful, and the orchestra appears to be enjoying the playfulness of the music as much as the listener.

The disc ends with a three-movement work called The Green Double: a historical dance suite by Anthony R. Green. Here, the composer draws on black history and classical music to create his dances. Like Elizondo, Green makes no attempt to be “modern” in the sense of being experimental, atonal, or eccentric. There are no sounds involved for the sake of sound alone. Every note is calculated to create a mood, a feeling, a longing, a fear, or a consoling, Probably the best way to describe the piece is hopeful and comforting. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we came to the disc’s contemporary music, and I was happy with the creative, listenable diversity I found.

Executive Producer Bob Lord and Session Engineer John Weston recorded the album at Futura Productions in Roslindale, MA in 2019-2020. The sound is quite good, neither too bright nor too dull. The frequency spectrum is clear and well balanced, with good transparency, extended highs, and convincing lows. Moreover, dynamics are more than adequate for the type of music it is, and because of the relatively small size of the ensemble and the success of the engineering, we get a fine sense of depth and space among the players. All is well.

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 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

Contact Information

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa