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Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Kabalevsky: the Comedians.

Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Kabalevsky: The Comedians. Kiril Kondrashin, RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. JVC JM-XR24014.

I've heard quite a few of the JVC remasterings now, and this is the first one that I have never had in my collection, and never even heard before. So, I have no basis for comparison to tell whether JVC's very expensive processing of the master tape is superior to anything else available at the moment. I do know the album is currently available in RCA's "Living Stereo" line at about $13.00 (along with Tchaikovsky's and Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccios), whereas the JVC lists for about $31.00. If you've heard a difference for the better in JVC products in the past, as I have, perhaps the costlier investment would be worth it. Otherwise, who knows; I make no promises.

In any case, I was familiar with Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite, if not this particular recording of it, and I was most looking forward to it here. I was also most disappointed in it. It had been maybe twenty years since my last hearing it, and I'd forgotten how very loud and very bombastic the work is. This is a matter of taste, of course, but I found even the two slow movements, the Nocturne and Romance, uninspired. What's more, I wasn't much impressed by the sound, remastered or not. The bass was plentiful and deep, to be sure, but the highs seemed bright and edgy. Not a particularly pleasant experience for me.

Then, I listened to the coupling, Kabalevsky's The Comedians, and it was an entirely different story. I had never heard the complete suite before, but by the time I reached the "Comedian's Galop," I realized I'd heard this familiar music time and again without realizing what it was. The whole piece, ten short movements in all, is delightful, witty, and invigorating. More important, The Comedians appears to have been scored for a slightly smaller orchestra, because while both it and the Masquerade Suite were recorded at about the same time, the sound of The Comedians is smoother, deeper, and more transparent. In fact, I found The Comedians, as short as it is (about fifteen minutes), probably worth its steep asking price.

Let me put it another way: If you've never heard the two recordings before, as I hadn't, and you're willing to take a chance, you might consider either the JVC remastering if you have a very high-end system and very deep pockets or the RCA Living Stereo if you want to be sensible and have a mid-fi system. In both cases you'll find the Kabalevsky, especially, exhilarating and fun under the baton of Russian conductor Kiril Kondrashin.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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