August 2001

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Royal Strings
Telarc CD-80562
Released: 2001

by Tom Lyle

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]I have a soft spot for string compilations, one of my favorites being the LP English String Music on EMI [ASD 2831]. This new release from Telarc, Royal Strings, does it one better, ignoring geography and choosing just great string music. Moreover, the sound quality of this CD is stupendous. So again, even if you have heard these works numerous times, it might hardly matter. I know it hardly matters to me.

The selection of pieces runs the gamut from a Leopold Stokowski arrangement of Henry Purcell's Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas composed in the 17th century, to Ralph Vaughan William’s 20th century Fantasia on Greensleeves, and plenty in between. Felix Mendelssohn’s Allegro from his Octet in E-flat major starts the CD off, and we are treated to pieces by Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven.

Charles Rosekrans masterfully conducts the entire program, and every piece comes across much more than a cut above a mere reading. The Royal Philharmonic strings respond to him splendidly, and although I could hear (very) occasional lapses in intonation, these were only evident on very close scrutiny while listening through headphones.

The only accurate way I can describe the sound quality of this CD is "perfect." Entire sections as well as individual instruments sound lush, but at the same time their frequencies are faultlessly balanced from top to bottom. Special mention must go to Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings (in an arrangement by Remo Giazotto) because of the ultimate subwoofer workout you will encounter. But like the string sound, the pedal points of the organ don’t sound overblown but naturally recorded, and I assume quaked the air of Walthamstow Assembly Hall in London. The microphone placements deliver an ideal balance of reflected hall sound and direct sound, and there is an uncanny realism to every instrument. It is among the best standard 44.1 kHz/16-bit CDs I have ever heard, regardless of genre.

So, even if you do not have a soft spot for string compilations, there is a very good chance that you’ll find this CD as enjoyable as I did.