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Johan Helmich Roman: Drottningholms Musique - Cappella Coloniensis

Johan Helmich Roman: Drottningholms Musique - Cappella Coloniensis

Capriccio  71 115

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical


Johan Helmich Roman: Drottningholms Musique (Suite)

Cappella Coloniensis
Ulf Björlin

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Review by John Miller - April 1, 2007

This disc is in Capriccio's mid-price series of refurbished back-catalogue, digitally converted into multi-channel on a DSD master. The music was recorded in early 1984 by Cappella Coloniensis, who claim to be the first orchestra in the world to have played in historically aware style, with period instruments, from their foundation in 1954.

Johan Helmich Roman (1694 - 1788) was of Finnish origin, and joined the Swedish Court Orchestra first as a player, then after a period of study in London and other places on the continent, he became Kapellmeister in 1727. Considered as an important figure in the history of Scandinavian music, his style is bright and sometimes quirky, with abrupt changes of mood and dynamic. He favoured the new galant style, but there are overtones of French and Italian baroque mannerisms, especially in ornamentation. The Drottningholm Music was written for the 3-day long wedding festivities in 1744 of Frederik the Great's sister to Adolf Friedrich, the Swedish heir to the throne. It consists of 44 movements, ranging from pomp with trumpets and drums to more intimate chamber pieces. Given its head (in better recordings and performances), it is a splendid piece.

Cappella Coloniensis appear to play with good style and plenty of baroque ornamentation, making the music sound like Lully's at times. I say appear, because I had to struggle with the recording to get to the music. As with others in this refurbishment series, there are no details about the master tapes, and if they were analogue or PCM, or at what resolution. My first impressions were of disappointment. In MC, the sound was boxy and generally hung around the left of the frontal image, quite distracting, so that I had to go back and check if all my speakers were actually working. The sound from the rears is quite bizarre; the music sounding from the end of a very long tunnel with multiple echoes, like a very bad digital imitation of a battered old reverberation plate. There was no sense of front to back in the orchestra, with trumpets and drums sounding muffled and far from providing State Splendour. The Concerto Grosso may have been from a different recording session, as it is less biased towards the left and less steely in the high string department. Sound in all formats was bass light, despite being 5.1. In Stereo mode, the situation was marginally better, with a somewhat more natural and coherent sound, but only slightly more refined in instrumental colour compared to the RBCD track. At length, I tried the Stereo track as processed through the Dolby PLII chip in my amplifier, using its Music setting. Suddenly everything came together in 5.1 and I was able to relax and listen to the performances. A coherent picture emerged of an orchestra in a distinct acoustic, and even the bass was better. Quite listenable, but hardly of real SACD standard.

As there is no other Roman in the SACD market as yet, I feel that it would be better to stick to some of the many excellent RBCDs of his music from Bis, for example. If you want really special performances, then those by the present-day Drottningholms Ensemble cannot be bettered, but these may be hard to find now.

Do please give Roman a try if you don't know his music - but this Capriccio is troublesome, even at mid-price, and at the very least it needs some taming as I suggested above. This is no Polyhymnia refurbishment!

Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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Review by John Broggio - June 26, 2007

Superb music in spirited performances ruined by a recording that, even for one recorded in 1984, should shame every engineer of the period (I'm sure I've heard better from Rachmaninov's recording team).

We are offered the extended suite Drottingholms-Musique which is stuffed to the rafters with very exuberant dance music and some slower movements to allow the gathering to catch breath. Following this is the Concerto grosso in B flat in a typical 3 movement structure.

The Cappella Coloniensis are spirited in their playing Ulf Björlin (and ably joined by Helmut Hucke on the oboe on tracks 16-18 not 6-8 as the booklet suggests); there are moments when the spirit betrays itself in flawed intonation and occasional sour tone - nothing that spoils ones enjoyment though.

The recording though sounds as though one is at the far end of a very, very long hall so one-dimensional is the sound. The ear does gradually get used to the awful sound but we should not have to do so.

Only buy this is you have to hear Roman - hopefully Pentatone's crack ensemble the New Dutch Academy might explore this repertoire before too long because it could (and should) be immensely rewarding.

Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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