True Classics by the Colorado Symphony recorded by Neumann and Sennheiser – The Digital Synergy
This pair of discs covering some of the best known works from the classical (or more strictly the Romantic) repertoire represents a new threshold in digital recording. Other digital multi-microphone recordings have been made successfully, of works like Tallis’s Spem in alium, but this state of the art stereo recording of a symphony orchestra sets a new bench mark. Doubtless it will excite those interested in the technology, but more important is the quality of the musical experience this recording demonstrates.
The set begins with Brahms’ Hungarian Dances which show off the pyrotehnical brilliance of the recording – superb clarity in the bass and energetic excitement in the percussion. It feels as though you are wandering among the players so immediate is the impact. The conductor Scott O’Neil milks the romantic soundscape of these pieces for all their worth, enjoying the technological resources available quite as much as the scores he so clearly understands and interprets. From Brahms to Grieg (Morning Mood from Peer Gynt) which shows off the obbligato playing from the principal wood winds as well as the sumptuous velvety playing of the whole orchestra.
These are jollies from the standard concert hall repertoire, and one is left with a desire to hear more of a particular symphony, suite or opera – such is the frustration of any cherry-picked selection. But having tantalisingly opened one particular window Scott O’Neil adroitly and almost seamlessly whisks one away to yet more musical gems. To move from the famous waltz from Eugene Onegin to a Bach orchestral suite feels like a breath-taking adventure rather than a jarring juxtaposition – though the silences which help break one atmospheric mood before embarking on the next are nicely judged.
Maybe JS Bach in the twenty first century is now more usually performed with Baroque fastidiousness (even by modern orchestras) but the Colorado Symphony Orchestra enjoys the languorous beauty of Bach’s Suite No 3 that one is totally persuaded by their romantic interpretation. Their rendering of the overture from Smetana’s Bartered Bride takes us into different territory, and the precise articulation of strings and woodwind in a constant fever of excitement which builds up to powerful climaxes, exactly captures the drama of Smetana’s village opera. A splendid typo on the cover has this piece down as the Bartered Bridge Overture. And maybe it does make a convenient bridge to another favourite of the twentieth century repertoire – Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Green Sleeves. It’s not often you hear on a recording the intake of breath of the solo flautist, but that gives real-life authenticity to the performance – like hearing fingers on fret-work in a Bach cello suite.
Berlioz, Mozart and Beethoven end this first disc which concentrate on the joy, heroism and compassion and delight in nature rather than the darker dimensions of the human condition. However the movement from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony on the second disc reminds us that this work was first performed under the composer’s baton in 1813 at a charity concert in aid of those wounded at the battle of Hannau. Debussy, Sibelius, Mahler and Stravinsky stand alone as representatives of the early part of the twentieth century of true classics. Perhaps future recordings, using the same state of the art technology, could include works – not least from Britain and America – that have been written in the later twentieth and twenty first centuries. True classics have a future as well as a past!
The Debussy Prelude (Afternoon of a Faun) gives scope for the principal players to demonstrate their formidable technique. While the sinister excitement of Sibelius’s Finlandia leads us from the snowy waste land to the bright fields of Finnish uplands. The swelling pride of Finlandia’s great theme moves into a movement from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, – a work so well known and yet rendered here with fresh energy and excitement – brass and percussion bringing the work to its triumphant conclusion, while the gentle solo interjections convey a pastoral idyll and rural values.
By contrast the dream world of the Berceuse from Stravinsky’s Fire Bird produces some shimmering playing from the strings and harp, delightful solo passages from horn and violin, with the whole diaphanous texture brought crashing down by the exuberance of timpani and trumpets. Mahler 5 is performed with all the gentle understanding that allows the mystery and the humanity of this slow movement to shine forth. And a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony rounds off an impressive technological and musical enterprise with flair and panache making the most of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic palette.
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