Kansas City Symphony - New Release

Here on the blog we like to give exciting upcoming information. As many may know last February, Reference Recordings partnered with the Kansas City Symphony to create a number of albums. This fall (2009), the second of those albums will be released. We will not be giving away the title or contents of that album today, but in order to get you excited we want to turn back the pages to last summer’s debut, Tempest!

Here are some quotes about that album:

“ I doubt there’s an orchestra in America that has grown this much this fast. They sounded terrific.”
–Paul Horsley, Kansas City Star

“The Sullivan is solid music, strongly in the Mendelssohn vein but with moods all its own—from tender melancholy to mild turmoil. The Sibelius is at turns rich, moody, exotic and humorous…its crunchy dissonances and distinctive coloristic textures are effective.” –Kansas City Star

Classics Today review gave the album a 10/10 rating (10 in Artistic Quality, 10 in Sound Quality)
Reviewer - David Hurwitz:
Arthur Sullivan's music for The Tempest reveals the 19-year-old as a serious talent. Yes, the music owes something to Mendelssohn--the Prelude, particularly, takes a few major hints from the Fingal's Cave Overture. But the melodic inspiration is fresh, the orchestration vivid, the dance music aptly toe-tapping, and the brief postlude curiously moving in a way that actually anticipates the more reflective moments of the Sibelius that follows. Coupling these two works, one a barely known first orchestral essay, the other a late but still curiously neglected masterpiece, was a brilliant idea--a "concept" album that really makes good musical sense.

The playing order of the Sibelius also is very intelligent: Prelude (Storm), Suite No. 2, then Suite No. 1, which ends with a reprise of the Prelude's storm music. Happily, both here and in the Sullivan, the performances are as smart, atmospheric, and vibrant as the music itself. Caliban's Song and the storm episodes have impressive power, and they're stunningly recorded in vintage Reference Recordings fashion. The more lyrical moments, such as the Berceuse and the various song transcriptions, are all beautifully played by the Kansas orchestra. The wind soloists are uniformly fine (listen to the flute in The Oak Tree, from Suite No. 1), and the harp, so important to the music's "magic" elements, is wonderfully present without ever sounding spotlit. Only "Miranda" from Suite No. 2 sounds a touch edgy in the violins, the tempo slightly rushed. This and any other minor quibbles certainly aren't enough to prevent me from recommending this new release in the strongest possible terms. It's a winner in all respects. [7/23/2008]

From Audiophile Audition: - John Sunier
“Shakespeare’s Tempest” - SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN: Incidental music for The Tempest; JEAN SIBELIUS: Prelude & Suites #2 & #1 from Incidental music for The Tempest - Kansas City Symphony/ Michael Stern - Reference Recordings HDCD RR-115, 68:40 ***** [Distr. by Allegro]:

I haven’t included HDCD-encoded standard CDs in our Hi-Res section before, but I feel this one is a cut above the normal CD sonically, in the same way some xrcds and the K2 HD discs of F.I.M. are - even though they all must work with the challenging “bottleneck” of the 44.1K/16-bit CD format. Of course the note on the front of the disc about it being a 24-bit recording is misleading - as are similar notes on many CDs today. Whatever higher-resolution media was used for the original recording, it must be downsampled, bit-mapped, or variously translated down to the 44.1K/16-bit specs of the final CD. Now if this were a 96K/24-bit DVD we would surely hear even more of the super-resolution 176.4I/24-bit original audio files which recording engineer Keith O. Johnson recorded in February of this year with the Kansas City Symphony in Independence, Missouri. It is not, but the mixdown has been handled beautifully and the added resolution of the HDCD codec (if you have a decoder built into your player, preamp or receiver) does enhance transparency and dynamic range.

At first the pairing of Sullivan and Sibelius on the same CD seems rather odd - I don’t think it’s been done before. But then as one reads the note booklet about the similarities and contrasts between the two very different composers’ approach to the music for Shakespeare’s play, it all begins to make sense. Sullivan’s music comes from early in his career, prior to his partnership with Gilbert. But it has a similar mid-Victorian, very English style to it. The music of Mendelssohn was something of an influence on both composers. The suite of Tempest music from Sullivan has seven sections; some are just preludes to a portion of the play, rather than depicting specific characters.

Sibelius wrote a Prelude and 35 separate episodes for the Tempest. He selected some of the episodes in a different order to make up the two suites for concert presentation. Sibelius was a fine orchestrator and must have enjoyed the greater tools at his disposal with the symphony orchestra vs. the small ensemble that played the incidental music in the theater. He could emphasize the ethereal nature of some of the music, for example. It is most interesting to compare Sibelius’ Dance of the Nymphs with Sullivan’s Dance of Nymphs and Reapers - they both will remind one of Mendelssohn, but still sound like their very individual composers. Sibelius’ music for the shipwreck and storm is almost Wagnerian. The Kansas City players sound the equal of one of the Top Five U.S. Orchestras, and Reference Recordings has presented them in the best possible two-channel sonics that could be impressed onto a CD. The packaging is also very classy. Nice also to see a rare new recording of a U.S. orchestra made in the U.S. by a U.S. record label!

Tomorrow we will have some reviews of the pre-recording concert of the new album

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