Hope (CD review)

Works by Ramirez, Dowland, Schubert, Giazotto, El-Hkoury, Part, Elgar, Foster, Andre, and traditional selections. Daniel Hope, violin; Zurcher Kammerorchester; Ensemble Amarcord, Katta; Patrick Messina; Jacques Ammon; Thomas Hampson; Julia Okruashvili; Marie-Pierre Langlamet; Colin Rich; and the Palau de la Musica Vocal Quartet. DG 486 0541.

By John J. Puccio

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” --Desmond Tutu

“Music has a tremendous power. This album is my attempt to send out a ray of hope and to provide people, myself included, with a sense of support and perhaps even consolation.” --Daniel Hope

For those few who may not, perhaps, be completely familiar with Daniel Hope, he is a South African-born classical violinist (b. 1973) of world renown who is also the Music Director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and the New Century Chamber Orchestra. He plays the 1742 "ex-Lipinski" violin by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu.

Hope conceived and recorded the present album during lockdown, 2020, and in it he attempts to produce “a highly personal, yet distinctive collection of timeless classics by Schubert, Elgar, Part,” (and others). A booklet note continues, saying “Music was one of the first things to which people turned impulsively during the first coronavirus lockdowns in the spring of 2020.... Making music and in particular singing brought the world closer together after social distancing had created greater barriers than ever before.”

So, it’s music of hope. Music of trust. Music of promise. Music of expectation for all of us to come together. To that end, it includes works by Ariel Ramirez, John Dowland, Franz Schubert, Remo Giazotto, Bechara El-Hkoury, Arvo Part, Edward Elgar, Stephen Foster, and Fabian Andre, as well as traditional selections like “Danny Boy” and “Amazing Grace.”

Although it may seem like a kind of eclectic approach for a theme album, incorporating as it does a number of short, sometimes seemingly disparate works, it amply displays Mr. Hope’s expressive violin playing and his sincere intent. Accompanying Mr. Hope in the various pieces are the Zurich Chamber Orchestra; Ensemble Amarcord; organist Katta; clarinetist Patrick Messina; pianist Jacques Ammon; baritone Thomas Hampson; pianist Julia Okruashvili; harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet; vocalist Colin Rich; and the Palau de la Musica Vocal Quartet.

The album begins with Misa Criolla (“Creole Mass” or “Native Mass”) by Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010), here arranged for solo violin, vocal quartet, charango (a ten-stringed mandolin), guitar, percussion, and string orchestra. The Paulau de la Musica Vocal Quartet, various instrumentalists, and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra accompany Mr. Hope. Appropriate to the album’s theme, Ramirez said he wrote the Mass as a “spiritual” piece designed to express humanity’s hopes of a better world. At a little over twenty minutes in length, it is also the longest selection on the program. Hope’s violin tone is plaintive yet uplifting from the outset. The quicker-paced succeeding movements are more spirited affairs with more-obvious Hispanic influences. It’s a splendid piece, well played, and well recorded.

The next selections are short songs arranged for violin and vocal ensemble. The first of these is Time Stands Still by English composer John Dowland (1563-1626), and the second is Die Nacht by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). In both, the Ensemble Amacord accompanies Mr. Hope. Although these works can be a bit mournful, they convey a lovely sentiment, with Mr. Hope’s violin adding a heartwarming quality to the proceedings. The Schubert is downright tear-jerking.

Then we get a longer, instrumental work, the famous Adagio in G minor by Remo Giazotto (1910-1998), with Mr. Hope, organist Katta, and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Giazotto always contended he transcribed the Adagio from a long-lost manuscript by the Italian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751), but that claim remains in doubt. Whatever, we get a terrific account of it here, neither too sentimental nor too matter-of-fact. It glides smoothly along on the back of Katta’s organ passages, with a rather forward part for the soloist.

Mr. Hope rounds out the album with over half a dozen shorter works: Byblos, the Old City by Bechara El-Khoury; Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Part; Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar; “Dream a Little Dream” by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt; “Ah! May the Red Rose Live Alway” by Stephen Foster; and two traditional songs, “Danny Boy” and “Amazing Grace.”

In short, it’s an endearing album, if perhaps more than a tad on the solemn side. Still, the music is so beautiful and so beautifully performed, one cannot help going away impressed and, yes, hopeful.

Producers Christoph Classen and Tobias Lehmann and engineer Rene Moller recorded the music at XKO-Haus, Zurich and Teldex Studio, Berlin in July, September, and December 2020. The sound exhibits excellent transient response and dynamics, with clear percussion and strong bass. The engineers ensure the violin is well integrated with the rest of the instruments and voices, not too  recessed nor too far out front. The overall tone is a trifle soft, which is better than its being too bright or edgy, yet it maintains good, lifelike definition. It’s a pleasantly listenable disc, as are most of the DG recordings I’ve heard lately.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa