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Sullivan, Sibelius: Shakespeare's Tempest
Stern: cnd/Kansas City Symph
Sullivan, Sibelius: Shakespeare's Tempest
Genre: Classical
A brilliant first collaboration between Reference Recordings and the Kansas City Symphony features the first modern recording of the suite by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the best performance ever of the Sibelius suites. First...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Stern: cnd/Kansas City Symph
Title: Sullivan, Sibelius: Shakespeare's Tempest
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: Reference Records
Original Release Date: 1/1/2008
Re-Release Date: 7/8/2008
Genre: Classical
Style: Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 030911111526


Album Description
A brilliant first collaboration between Reference Recordings and the Kansas City Symphony features the first modern recording of the suite by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and the best performance ever of the Sibelius suites. First audiophile recording by Music Director Michael Stern, son of famed American violinist Isaac Stern. Dynamic high-resolution HDCD recording by multi Grammy nominee "Prof." Keith Johnson. The Kansas City Symphony has recorded for Naxos, and Michael Stern has recorded for Arabesque, Denon, Hyperion, Naxos, and Sony--including Joshua Bell's latest release with the St. Martin Academy. "Conductor Stern leads the excellent Kansas City Orchestra with vigor and commitment ... a rewarding disc, featuring superlative performers." -- Fanfare "[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

CD Reviews

Michael Stern, KC Sym, Sullivan, Sibelius: Incidental Music
Dan Fee | Berkeley, CA USA | 03/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Reference Recordings of San Francisco (with Professor Johnson) is something of a specialist, boutique classical music label. The outfit has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards, because the label's sound is uniformly excellent. The standard is typical red book CD, plus the enhancement that the HDCD process - High Definition Compact Disc - offers. Some existing CD players will be able to process the HDCD enhancement; others will not. For starters, I spun the disc on my computer drive, without HDCD, but passed through a very high quality sound card (HD-RealTek), then to an ART headamp that fed Koss headphones.

Even lacking the HDCD enhancements, the sound is demonstration quality. By that praise I not mean that this disc is akin to the early days of stereo when vinyl LPs would be included with your new home stereo console, typically featuring sound effects like a freight train roaring through your living room from one side to the other, or a tennis match where you could distinctly hear the tennis ball getting whacked vigorously from one channel to the other and back again. The sonic demonstration is full-frequency, extremely well-balanced sound - tonal qualities all tuned and true; an altogether more musical bedrock of reference in recordings. The RR label doesn't use the word reference for nothing, as it happens.

Given the sonic allure, the next concern on this disc must be the band. When was the last time anybody heard the Kansas City Symphony playing anything like major repertoire, well enough to matter? As it happens, not to worry. Nor to worry at all. Judging from this recording, all band departments are solid and musical. No dead wood, as a snobby NYC friend used to say about visiting regional bands. That means - no scrawny strings, no tipsy woodwind intonation, no slipshod variations in overall instrumental balances, no overblown or blaring brass. Thanks to their innate talents, and probably also to the leader Michael Stern, this band is uncommonly musical in its work. There is just oodles of alert ensemble playing to go round, among all departments, at all sound levels from softest to loudest, and across the different musical textures that Sir Arthur Sullivan or Jean Sibelius wrote into the music in the first place.

Son of famed violinist Isaac Stern, Michael Stern is destined to be a great American conductor. Wherever he goes next, it will be Kansas City's loss. I think he has continued to build the band, rather as Antal Dorati always built up the bands he led, leaving things musically better than he typically found them while inspiring readings of new or familiar music at fresh, high performance levels.

Calling these readings, musical, well that is a tricky term to apply, let alone to define. Suffice it to say that, for me and my ears, I just have that special sense of musical commitment and musical values as it pops up spontaneously when I listen to certain conductors or bands. The last time I spontaneously tagged a recording as wholesomely musical as this one is, was way back when I first heard Herbert Blomstedt leading the Dresden Staatskapelle in Mozart symphonies, Bruckner symphonies, and Richard Strauss tone poems, on a Japanese import label called Denon. There was little or nothing out of the interpretive mainstream on any of those three or four Denon discs; but each reading reeked of that elusive and precious quality called, Musical.

So. The sound gets high marks. No quality drop offs with Reference Recordings, just because they are not involved in a major big five band project (or big ten band project, for that matter). No problems with the band, either, so far as I can hear. Gee folks, if you do play as well as Kansas City is playing these days, it must be very nice to get this quality of engineering to convey yourself to a wider listening public. Thanks engineers, big thanks, Kansas City. Kudos, Maestro Stern.
Now, what about repertoire? Sir Arthur Sullivan is not exactly a household composer in USA venues. He has a sort of historical reverence in UK circles; but even then I do not think you will find his music actually programmed and played in concert halls, even as often as his name might be mentioned.

Sullivan's incidental music to Shakespeare's Tempest turns out to be expertly written and scored, and not at all boring or formulaic. Sullivan owes a musical debt to Mendelssohn and to Schumann, obviously; yet he could write his own sort of clean, Green Isles Fresh melodies, and keep the harmony going well enough on his own terms that nothing for a moment sounds hackneyed in the least. Michael Stern and Kansas City do this Sullivan set to a fine turn. They do not distort the music by, either trying to make Sullivan's music more than it is, or by playing down as if Sullivan's music is beneath serious performance. Given just, loving attention, we perhaps ought to hear Sir Arthur Sullivan's music more often than we typically do.

Sibelius also wrote incidental music to the play. His score is surprising, right from the first swirling harmonies and figurations by which a Prelude conjures up images of the storm at sea that blows the ship off course, to the enchanted island where mystery, adventure, and love awaits. The textures and harmonies show how indebted Sibelius was, to the examples set by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. (Do I even hear subtle touches of Grieg, or Berwald?) His characteristic handling of brass harmonies and diaphanous musical textures is simply true to the Sibelius we already know and love, without necessarily being as revolutionary in musical-intuitive form or development as the final seventh symphony that had just preceded this stage music. As with the Sullivan, so with the Sibelius. Stern and the band play the music with just the right combination of loving care and appropriate musical size.

This project is a marked success, sonically and musically. It is a very nice added touch that we get to hear a regional USA orchestra that is playing this well, to boot. I wonder, How would an actual Sibelius symphony sound? From this fine label? With this conductor? Leading this band? What storm could blow that marketing spell, disguised as a shipwreck, in our direction? Alas, we are stranded here, on this island where both the magic of sound and the magic of music matters? Impervious to the wide oceans where fancy marketing department ocean liners only travel in pre-arranged, cross-over hit musical itineraries. Do not deprive yourself of this magical little Reference Recording disc, then; it belongs quite nicely, on the Sibelius fav shelves."
Stunning Sonics
Scott K. Colebank | Kansas City | 02/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This disc is a sonic dazzler, with very wide dynamic range, which surprised me because the RLDS Auditorium in Independence, Missouri, where this was recorded, is not renowned for its acoustics. So, this was a very pleasant surprise - hats off to the recording engineers. I prefer Sullivan's "Tempest" to the version by Sibelius, but the two works on the same CD are an interesting coupling. The orchestra playing is at a very high level. Notes and packaging are first-rate. I look forward to future installments in this series. This is surely the finest symphonic recording, on an artistic and technical level, to come out of the Kansas City area since a series of recordings made by the Kansas City Symphony's predecessor, the Kansas City Philharmonic under Hans Schweiger released on the Urania label back in the late 1950's. Update: the sequel to this album was recorded in the same venue during the first weekend of June, 2009, following a public concert on June 4 of the works to recorded, all by Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem, Passacaglia and Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. I attended the concert and heard some very nice playing, although the final fugue of "Guide" was a bit fast for my taste. I timed the performance at just over 17 minutes. I look forward to the release of the new CD in coming months."
pmwb.france | France | 01/24/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Played on one high-end system this CD is not of the usual Recital Recording standard. The strings are thin and poor and the trombones practically inaudible, etc. The Kansas City Symphony Orchestra is one splendid band, but the recording is a true disaster."