The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: Song to the Evening Star
Duo 2000:
Sergio Zampolli, MIDI accordion
Amarillie Ackermann, acoustic harp


J. Strauss Jr.: The Blue Danube
R. Wagner: Song to the Evening Star (from Tannhauser)
P. I. Tschaikovsky: Waltz from The Sleeping BeautyBallet
J.S. Bach, arr. C. Gounod: Ave Maria
J. Offenbach: Bacarolle (from The Tales of Hoffman)
A. Ketelbey: In a Persian Market
P. Mascagni: Intermezzo (from Cavalleria Rusticana)
A. Khatchaturian: Galop from Masquerade Suite
I. Albeniz: Granada
P. I. Tschaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker Suite
G. Mescoli: Amore Scusami

total time: 59:30
released: 1997

label: BMG, South Africa
disk no: CDBSP(WP)7019
phone: 011 782 8240

Review by Robert Berta:

When I first heard I was to receive a CD from South Africa with an unusual combination of instruments, I looked forward to an interesting listening experience -- I didn't quite know what to expect. When it finally arrived, I was astounded to find that the group, Duo 2000, is comprised of a MIDI accordion and an acoustic harp playing a mostly classical repertoire.

While I am a lover of and performer on the acoustic accordion, I am also an avid MIDI accordionist and felt that this would be an interesting combination of instruments. I should warn you that if you are a "purist" and think that the accordion should only be played as an acoustic reed instrument, this CD will not be for you. Even though Sergio Zampolli plays a beautiful free bass Excelsior accordion, you will not hear any reed sounds on this recording. Instead, he uses his accordion solely as a MIDI controller.

After exchanging e-mail with Amarillie Ackermann and reading the liner notes, it appears that the duo spent quite bit of time trying to locate any accordion/harp duet music. Not surprisingly, they were unable to find any and did their own arrangements. And spectacular arrangements they are! Both artists showed consummate skill as both musicians and arrangers.

I have played this CD for quite a few musicians, including a member of the San Francisco Symphony, who were astonished at the quality of sound that these two players were able to achieve. Listening to this compact disc, recorded live without any form of sequencing except on one tune, you would be hard pressed to believe that you weren't listening to a large symphony orchestra.

While all of these tunes are well-worn, familiar classical pieces, this fresh approach brings to them new vigor, and, for the most part, is beautifully rendered.

The "Blue Danube" is a gorgeous piece that illustrates the symphonic capability of a MIDI instrument in expert hands. The melding of the harp throughout the CD is absolutely first rate and certainly is just the correct touch, never under or underpowering the MIDI instruments and providing just the right touch of "spice." I found I had to constantly remind myself that I was only listening to two people playing a live performance. The title piece "Song to the Evening Star" is truly moving and satisfying, as was the "Sleeping Beauty Waltz."

Most of the selections were quite effective although in a couple of cases the selection of the MIDI instrument sounds would not have been my first choice. This was most noticeable in the "Galop" from Masquerade Suite. The initial instrumentation was a little too electronic in sound rather than simulating orchestral instruments. This isn't necessarily bad (after all, one has to remember that all of the sounds other than the harp were electronic), but I thought that a better choice could have been made. The other questionable choice was in "Granada." While this was a gorgeous arrangement with real fire and excellent musicianship, the guitar simulation sounded more 'steel string' rather than like a nylon-strung classical guitar. This was not a big thing, but if the illusion and faithfulness to the original intent is to be maximized, a better choice could have been made. These are minor criticisms and are aimed at the electronic sounds selection rather than any implied deficiencies in musicianship or technique, which are impressive throughout this CD. A selection which I really enjoyed (and perhaps my favorite on the CD) was the "Waltz of the Flowers."

Overall this CD rates among one of my favorites to date: a most amazing performance, beautiful listening and one that I won't soon grow tired of listening to. For accordion purists, I would recommend they have a listen, too. In the hands of a musician of this caliber, the MIDI accordion rightfully takes its place as a very capable incarnation of the many variations of accordions that have been developed over the years. In fact the inherent design of the accordion makes it a far superior input MIDI controller compared to the more common piano keyboard. Who would have guessed that the decades-old original design of the accordion would be a perfect design for the age of electronics.

I understand that Duo 2000 are working on a couple more CDs. I would assume they will be of equal interest and I will be on the lookout for them when they hit the market.

Editor's Comment:

Although I enjoyed listening to this CD and I was impressed by the abilities of both Sergio Zampolli and Amarillie Ackermann, I have doubts about whether MIDI accordion CDs should be reviewed on The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. website as I don't believe that the MIDI accordion can actually be considered an accordion at all since -- in its pure form -- it has no reeds. (In this case, the performer's instrument is a combination reed-accordion and MIDI controller, but the performer chose not to use the reeds of the accordion, instead using the instrument only as a MIDI controller.)

Of course, the MIDI accordion looks like an accordion, it feels pretty much like an accordion, and it probably even smells like an accordion, but it doesn't sound like an accordion. Actually, MIDI accordions (and all other MIDI controllers for that matter) don't produce sounds at all. The sounds are produced by a loudspeaker and are generated by a digital sampler or other synthetic sound source. A MIDI controller might have the shape of an accordion, or a piano, or a guitar or a wind instrument, or anything else, but it is actually only a MIDI controller and not the instrument it attempts to imitate.

For example, look at the electronic MIDI keyboard; it might be shaped like a piano and even be housed in a traditional piano case with three legs and a lid, but it is not a piano; it is a keyboard.

Another example: What if an organ manufacturer built a pipe organ without pipes; but instead used accordion reeds to produce the sound? This instrument cannot be called a pipe organ, even though it might look like one from the outside, with fake pipes even. It is actually a harmonium.

And yet another example: suppose an accordion was built which had no reeds inside, but produced sounds by having the keys move plectra which pluck strings inside the body of the instrument. It is not really an accordion, but a type of harpsichord or autoharp.

I believe the same analogy holds true with electronic MIDI instruments. Internally they are all the same: simply MIDI controllers. Externally they may have different shapes, but their functions are basically the same.

Are you familiar with the character known as "Data" in "Star Trek?"

Is he a human or not?

Although he has the shape of a human, and talks like a human and perhaps might even smell like one, he is definitely NOT a human, as inside there are computer chips and mechanical devices.

I believe that the electronic accordion is a member of the electronic instrument family, which includes theremins, keyboards, wind controllers, computers, etc.

As for this recording, it is a great achievement for the performers and I'm sure that it will further their careers. However, if I had a choice to listen to two CDs with identical programs, one performed by a symphony orchestra and harp, and another by a MIDI controller and harp, you can guess which CD I would choose to listen to.

Despite advances in technology, it is not very difficult to hear the difference between a real orchestra and a MIDI orchestra, as long as the listener is well versed in the orchestral literature. Granted, some acoustic instruments are easier to imitate electronically than others -- the percussion instrument samples are more true-to-life than bowed strings for instance -- but a classical music connoisseur can tell the difference.

In the realm of pop and rock music, where electronically amplified instruments have been the rule rather than the exception for 40 plus years, MIDI controllers are a great asset for saving money which would have been spent in hiring other musicians. But in the realm of classical music, which is much more sophisticated than rock or pop, I have my doubts whether a MIDI controller can adequately imitate an acoustic instrument with all its subtleties in situations when the composer originally called for acoustic instruments.

Henry Doktorski:

Author's Reply:

I agree with Henry's assessment of the MIDI accordion but he has to remember that the intent of the two musicians was to try to simulate the effect of an orchestra with only two musicians which I think they were quite successful at. While I would prefer the "real" thing I admire what the duet was able to achieve with just two musicians.

I thought his comment about the pipe organ vs. ones with reeds fell short of the mark. If he went to the next step he could compare the pipe organ vs. the electronic organ. While an electronic organ can not reproduce the sounds of a pipe organ even though it has similarly named stops and looks like a pipe organ (at least in keyboard and pedals and stops) it is still a valid instrument that has a unique sound of its own that finds a place in music i.e. the Hammond B3.

In many ways the similarity between an electronic organ and MIDI is alike....a real pipe organ is very expensive and requires huge spaces compared to a electronic organ. The MIDI is much smaller, cheaper and more portable than a full orchestra.

To me the MIDI accordion is just another version of the accordion which has proven to be able to be morphed into all sorts of incarnations.

Robert Berta

About The Free-Reed Review
Invitation to Contributors / Submission Guidelines

Back to The Free-Reed Review Contents Page

Back to The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Home Page