As some of you know...I take quite a long time to review a CD. I need to listen to the recording many times before I can pass judgment. It either grows on me...or becomes irritating. Regrettably this one took much longer than I had planned. I am in the process of retiring, selling my old house and buying a new one 2000 miles away, moving and settling the kids, wife and mother-in-law into the new house. But while that caused me to put this review on the back burner it also gave me plenty of time to hear this CD through quite a few playings. For me to play a CD over and over is a real mark of what I think of a recording. Certainly this one rates as one of my most played CDs....it is EXCELLENT.
Soundscape is the name of A Trio consisting of Larry Miller, Madalynn Neu and John Neu. They are based in Denver Colorado. The group formed in 2000 by a chance meeting. Larry was an Accordion Major at the University of Denver under Robert Davine from 1967 to 1971. John and Madalynn studied with the studios of Vince Geraci in Chicago. All of them had stopped playing for about 25 to 30 years but now that their kids are grown decided to rekindle their musical interests.
The finest performance can be destroyed by a poor recording and thankfully the recording engineers knew what they were doing...the sound is nice and well balanced. The recording never gets in the way of the musical performance. And about that musical performance...WOW...what fantastic arrangements and transcriptions! All three members displayed excellent technical skill and wonderful musical interpretation.
Personally I often have issues with recordings that mix different genres of music. Many CDs tend to be more of a resume for the artist or artists rather than an organized list of selections in the same musical genre. This is perhaps the only short coming of this CD. It includes Classical Music, Blues, theatre tunes and even opera/boogie in the selections. A better more professional approach would tend to focus on one musical genre for all the selections. That being said, the uneven mix does work here very well due to the consistent arranging styles. While I would still have preferred a musical focus...in this case it was easily overlooked due to the outstanding performance.
What really sets this recording apart from other ensembles I have heard are the gorgeous arrangements and musical interpretation the Trio demonstrates. In the hands of a virtuoso performer an accordion can provide nuances of sound, articulation and dynamics that few if any instruments can match. The attributes of the accordion, bellows control of dynamics, adjustable voicing through reed selection, etc. are skillfully employed to give a soul to the music. Here the accordion shows what it can do in the hands of skilled musicians.
The Dance of The Comedians on the first track is a tune often heard on the accordion...but here it goes beyond the more vaudevillian renditions I am most familiar with in accordion versions. Smetana's composition here shines with nuances I have rarely heard in more modest performances. The second track is a medley from West Side Story. That medley and the last track on the recording, a Porgy and Bess medley, are without a doubt the most remarkable selections on this CD for me. I confess to being both a lover of classical music and also a hard core musical theatre fan and both of these musicals are among my favorites. I have rarely if ever heard such wonderful arrangements of these theatrical masterpieces as what Soundscape provided here. If Soundscape is considering producing another CD...they couldn't do better than to focus solely on musical theatre selections to showcase their considerable talent.
The various classical selections by Smetana, Mozart, Bach, Dvorak, Dukaswere all very fine renditions but I found the Flight of the Bumblebee/Boggieto be of less interest. I always considered the boogie version a little bit of a musical joke and while interesting I think it is really a slight to the original composer of The Flight of the Bumblebee, Rimsky-Korsakov. It just didn't work for me. By the way...how about some musical trivia? Did you know that The Flight of the Bumblebee is the only tune remaining from an obscure lost opera written by Rimsky-Korsakov called the Legend of Tsar Soltan?
While listening to Soundscapes rendition of Dukas "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" I was reminded of that famous scene in Disney's movie "Fantasia" where Mickey Mouse becomes the Sorcerer's Apprentice. That movie always stood out as a wonderful illustration of how music can paint pictures and evoke memories in your mind and take us far beyond the passive involvement in entertainment that we normally experience on TV. Certainly this CD went far beyond just a mechanical rendition of music and reached that lofty level of musicianship and musicality that brought to life wonderful memories and pictures. Today we often aren't asked to participate in entertainment. But when listening to music of this caliber...music that tells a story, invokes passion, wakes up hidden memories; we become part of the music. Whether through the pure mathematical precision music of Bach, Mozart's passionate art, Smetana's audio circus, Bernstein's seedy tenement in New York, or a sorcerer's cave; music when performed very well can take us on wonderful trips. And here Soundscape provides a great "trip".
Robert Berta "The Classical Free Reed Review"