Thursday, February 09, 2012

Kansas City Symphony: Audiophile Recording

A group of about 400 invited subscribers and friends of the Kansas City Symphony gathered at Helzberg Hall Wednesday for a most interesting and enlightening experience, a preview concert of a new recording of the Symphony by Reference Recordings. Gone forever, it seems, are the days when the major orchestras of the US and Europe churned out new recordings by the dozens every month on the great labels of the era… Columbia, Deutsche Gramophon, Decca… conducted by the giants of the time. Filling that gap are smaller labels like Reference Recordings who produce a smaller number of fine recordings each year.  Lucky for us here, Reference has forged a bond with our local band and has released two well received recordings, including a Grammy winner.

I have to give all involved great credit for daring to record major standard repertoire pieces that often have some very heady competition. No unknown or unrecorded composers or works on this latest disc containing three 20th century orchestral showpieces, Prokofiev’s “Love for Three Oranges” Suite, Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” Suite and Hindemith’s “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.”

This was no mere run though to test the microphones (although that really was the main purpose). We were treated to a true, focused concert with some of the best playing I have ever heard from the KCS, and we have heard a lot; crisp, exciting, lyrical, brisk but not excessive tempi and visceral. The Prokofiev crackled with wit and snap, the often violent and complex score of the Bartok was breathtaking, clear and detailed without being fussy. Those paying attention may have noted the organ pedals at the beginning, the first time many have heard the mighty new Casavant organ. Michael Stern’s very first concert as Music Director included the Hindemith Metamorphosis and wowed the audience then. This one was even better with fabulous wind solos, chiming and clean percussion, and dancing rhythms.

On hand were Reference Recordings’ wizards of sound, “Professor” Keith Johnson, the finest recording engineer around and producer David Frost, the best of his profession as well. This team, as Maestro Stern noted, has won about as many Grammy Awards as there were people in the hall. With the orchestra focused and enthused, the already fine sound of Helzberg Hall and the RR team.. can you say “instant audiophile classic”? Sure you can.

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