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Hindemith, Prokofiev, Bartok - Stern

Hindemith, Prokofiev, Bartok - Stern

Reference Recordings  RR-132SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Weber
Prokofiev: Love for Three Oranges (suite)
Bartok: Miraculous Mandarin (suite)

Kansas City Symphony
Michael Stern


This magnificent new symphonic recording with the Kansas City Symphony contains three classic modern masterpieces. It is also the premiere recording made in the orchestra's new home, Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. Conductor Michael Stern's interpretations of these great works have been captured in brilliant HDCD sound by GRAMMY®–winning engineer Keith O. Johnson. Producer David Frost won GRAMMY awards in 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2014 for Classical Producer of the Year.

This is Reference Recordings' fourth release with the Kansas City Symphony, and we are most honored to work with them again. The Kansas City Symphony is the region's only full-time professional symphony orchestra, setting the standard for musical excellence. Led by Music Director Michael Stern since 2005, the Symphony has experienced impressive artistic growth, garnering national and international acclaim. The orchestra's 80 full-time musicians are area residents, and each season they touch the hearts of more than a million people through their concerts, educational programs and community outreach performances. They also serve as the orchestra for the Lyric Opera and the Kansas City Ballet.

For 38 years, Reference Recordings has been one of the most innovative and respected independent labels in the music business. Founded on the premise that most commercial recordings sound nothing like the live performance experience, Reference Recordings releases have been widely and lavishly praised for their dedication to high quality sound in the service of great music. Founder Tam Henderson (1998 GRAMMY® nominee for Producer of the Year), was joined in 1978 by engineer Keith O. Johnson. Some 130 projects later, RR is still recording what many consider to be the finest-sounding classical, jazz and blues discs in the world.

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Review by Graham Williams - September 18, 2014

Michael Stern's accounts of these three popular 20th century masterpieces with his fine Kansas City Symphony demonstrates musicianship of a high order throughout. Stern eschews any temptation to treat them merely as virtuoso orchestral showpieces, focusing instead on their more subtle musical values. The Hindemith is a perfect illustration of Stern's approach. Tempi are well judged allowing his players to phrase ingratiatingly – for example, the flute solos in the 'Andantino' – while the final 'Marsch' is trenchant and dogged but at the same time uplifting and joyous in its final bars.

The Prokofiev is similarly undemonstrative, and though some might feel that the opening is not quite incisive enough, Stern's sane approach pays dividends as the Suite progresses. The 'Infernal Scene' (track 6) has great menace, not least due to the percussive impact of the recording, and the well-known 'March' is steady and cleanly articulated by the Kansas City Symphony. I particularly enjoyed the sensuousness Stern and his players bring to 'The Prince and Princess' (track 9).

While the Concert Suite from 'The Miraculous Mandarin' may not have the rawness of some native Hungarian performances, Stern's more contained approach to this wonderful score yields many felicitations in the orchestral execution – the appropriately oleaginous clarinet playing of Robert Santos being just one example – and the savagery engendered in the Suite's final section is spine tingling.

The recording was entrusted to the capable hands of the veteran producer David Frost and engineer Keith O Johnson and, as one might expect, 'Prof.' Johnson's sonics are spectacular in their richness and impact – especially at the bass end of the spectrum. Unlike the earlier releases of the Kansas City Symphony on Reference Recordings, this one was made in the orchestra's impressive new performing home, the Helzberg Hall located in the Kauffman Centre for the Performing Arts (February 5-11, 2012). The 5.1 multi-channel SACD is sonically streets ahead of the CD/HDCD version of these performances issued some months ago. The listener is placed some way back in the hall but the sound has a wide spread between the speakers with a convincing depth and a pleasing ambience, most apparent in the quieter sections of these scores. I did, however, find it necessary to turn up the volume a tad to achieve real presence. With that done, the visceral impact of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at the opening of the Bartok became immediately apparent. It must be said, however, that, in all three works, the energy generated by every entry of the bass drum is of floor-shaking proportions. Though this is certainly attention grabbing, it is perhaps too much of a good thing especially for those with bass rich speakers.

The accompanying liner notes on the three works by Richard Freed, are clear, informative and detailed in a way that is not always emulated by other companies.

These expertly recorded and vividly etched performances can be confidently recommended.

Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Multichannel):

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