Recording of the Month

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J. Gordon Holt  |  Nov 13, 2018  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1964  |  1 comments
Joan Baez In Concert, Part 2
Joan Baez, vocals, guitar
Vanguard VTC-1679 (tape), VSD-2123 (LP). Maynard Solomon, prod., Reice Hamel, eng. TT: 48:00.

Well, we finally got ourselves equipped to review 4-track open-reel tapes, via a slightly modified Ampex F-44. All the tapes we have auditioned had noticeably higher hiss than the average stereo disc, but this was not loud enough to be distracting except when the tapes were reproduced at very high levels. Even then, we found the smooth, even hiss to be less objectionable than the ticks and pops from some discs played at the same level.

Richard Lehnert  |  Oct 30, 2018  |  4 comments
J.S. Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo, BWV 1007–1012
Kim Kashkashian, four- & five-string violas
ECM New Series 2553/54 (2 CDs). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Judy Sherman, eng. DDD. TT: 2:22:35
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Little is known of the origins of the Solo Suites, usually performed on the cello. No manuscript in Bach's hand survives, and in the copy produced by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, markings for slurs, articulation, and dynamics are sparse even by baroque standards. The suites may actually have been composed for the violoncello da spalla, an instrument smaller than the cello but larger than the viola, and played while held on the shoulder (some modern players use a neckstrap). But what are problems for the musicologist present a world of latitude to the interpreter, in this case master violist Kim Kashkashian, who takes full advantage of them.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Oct 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Bernstein: Arias and Barcarolles
Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Ryan McKinny, bass-baritone; San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas
SFS Media SFS-0073 (24/96 download). 2018. Jack Vad, broadcast & mastering eng., postprod.; Jason O'Connell, post-prod. DDD. TT: 32:54
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Why name this short digital download or streaming–only release of a live San Francisco Symphony performance from 2017—its native 24/96 PCM broadcast sound is a notch lower than the best-recorded titles in SFS Media's series of Davies Symphony Hall broadcasts— as our "Recording of the Month"? Because, as the centennial of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) draws to a close, this new recording of his eight Arias and Barcarolles from conductor Michael Tilson Thomas—whom Bernstein asked to play piano alongside him when the original version of the cycle, for four voices and piano four-hands, premiered in New York City in 1988—is definitive and essential listening.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Oct 16, 2018  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1964  |  5 comments
Vaughan Williams: Symphony No.2 (A London Symphony)
Hallé Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, conductor.
Vanguard Everyman, SRV-134-SD (1963 LP). Reissued in 1982 as PRT Collector GSGC 2035 (LP). Recorded by Pye (UK) in 1957.

This is undoubtedly the best London Symphony that's been committed to stereo to date, and I wouldn't be surprised if it held top place for years to come. I can find nothing to criticize about the performance, and the recording is awe-inspiring—rich, warm and natural, with some phenomenally low bass and very wide dynamic range, yet without the slightest audible trace of breakup during crescendos.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Oct 02, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1964  |  0 comments
Trio Flauto Dolce: Music at the Court of King Henry VII
Jacobean Fantasias; Kleine Geistliche Konzerte (Schutz): Elizabethan Ayres; Sonata in e (Boismortier); Domine, Dominus Noster (Campra).
Martha Bixler (recorders), Eric Leber (recorders, harpsichord), Morris Newman (recorders, bassoon), Robert White (tenor).
Posthorn Recordings (footnote) TFD-1 (LP). Jerry Bruck, eng.

This is another disc that was submitted for review on the basis of our bitter complaints in the August 1964 issue about unmusical gimmickry in commercial recordings. Like the Phoenix disc reviewed elsewhere in this issue, this is a first release. It carries a technical note to the effect that it was made with "a minimum of technical fuss and electronic gadgetry," and like the Phoenix, it sounds that way.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Sep 11, 2018  |  1 comments
Berio, Boulez, Ravel: Sinfonia, Notations I–IV, La Valse
Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Roomful of Teeth
Seattle Symphony Media SSM 1018 (CD, 2.0- and 5.1-channel downloads at 24/96). 2018. Rosalie Contreras, Elena Dubinets, exec. prods.; Dmitriy Lipay, prod., eng.; Alexander Lipay, eng. DDD. TT: 58:20
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

What ties Luciano Berio's boundary-breaking Sinfonia for Eight Voices and Orchestra (1968–69) to Pierre Boulez's out-there Notations I–IV for Orchestra (1945/1978) to Maurice Ravel's progressively off-kilter La Valse (1906–1920)? The Seattle Symphony's about-to-depart music director, Ludovic Morlot, cites their "ingenious transformation of pre-existing musical material or styles." I'm also inclined to say that it's their descent into chaos, even madness, which these performances transcend with an impeccably controlled, highly refined aesthetic, which I auditioned in 24/96 2-channel.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 04, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1965  |  14 comments
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
London Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, cond., Erich Gruenberg , solo violin.
London Phase 4 SPC-21005 (LP). Recorded September 22, 1964. Kingsway Hall, London. Marty Wargo, prod., Tony D'Amato, recording dir., Arthur Lilley, eng.

This is infuriating. Along comes the performance of Scheherazade that we've been waiting for, and the powers that be at London Records decide, God knows why, to bestow upon it the dubious blessing of Phase 4 recording. The sound is positively vast and cavernous, the bass booms, the highs scream, the harp sounds like it's 10' tall, and instruments wander back and forth across the stereo stage as if nobody had thought to tell the musicians where to sit.

Richard Lehnert  |  Aug 28, 2018  |  3 comments
Bruckner & Wagner
Andris Nelsons, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Bruckner: Symphony 4. Wagner: Lohengrin Prelude
Deutsche Grammophon 479 7577 (CD). TT: 79:24
Bruckner: Symphony 7. Wagner: Siegfried's Funeral March
Deutsche Grammophon 479 8494 (CD). TT: 76:48
Both: Everett Porter, prod., eng.; Lauran Jurrius, eng.; Polyhymnia International, mastering. DDD.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

In works as vast and challenging as the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, near perfection of interpretation and execution can come in different, even opposed forms. The slow meditations of Celibidache, the crisp classicism of Schaller, the precise power of Skrowaczewski: each is uniquely fulfilling and true to the scores, and none sounds anything like the others—or anything like the Bruckner of Andris Nelsons. Deutsche Grammophon has contracted with Nelsons and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra to record, in concert, Bruckner's symphonies 1–9. After beginning last year with a polished if impersonal account of Symphony 3, Nelsons's cycle is rapidly advancing in quality and pace of release.

Robert Levine  |  Aug 16, 2018  |  0 comments
Pärt: The Symphonies
Tõnu Kaljuste, NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic
ECM 2600 (CD). 2018. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Andrzej Sasin, Aleksandra Nagorko, engs. DDD. TT: 79:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Arvo Pärt is now so popular that it's no longer necessary to explain him. His piety is approachably beautiful and welcoming. He was not born composing his airy, contemplative, trademark "tintinnabular" (bell-like) music; up to the early 1970s, he cut his teeth on the 12-tone scale. His four symphonies, presented here on one CD for the first time, take us through that part of his career.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Aug 07, 2018  |  First Published: May 01, 1966  |  9 comments
Music to Listen to KLH By
Excerpts from recordings by Everest and Concert-Disc.
KLH VSR-101 (LP).

Don't be misled by the title of this. It's fine for listening to KLH by, and it is also fine for listening to any other top-notch reproducer by. It is, in fact, the best, and most musical, stereo demonstration disc that's come along to date.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 31, 2018  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1966  |  6 comments
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos.4 & 5, The Swan of Tuonela, Tapiola
Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan
Deutsche-Grammophon 138 974 (LP, Symphony 4). Both symphonies reissued on CD (Deutsche Grammophon 457 748 2)

Magnificent, musically natural recordings with some of the deepest, fattest bass and richest, warmest orchestral sound that's been committed to recordings for many years. The discs are a shade more lucid than the tapes, but not much. Take your pick.—J. Gordon Holt

Kalman Rubinson  |  Jul 12, 2018  |  41 comments
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (1924 jazz-band version, orch. Grofé). 1 Piano Concerto in F. 2 "Summertime." 3 Gershwin-Wild: "Somebody Loves Me," "I Got Rhythm," "Embraceable You."4 Oscar Levant: "Blame It On My Youth." 5
Kirill Gerstein, piano; 1–5 Storm Large, vocal; 3 Gary Burton, vibraphone; 5 David Robertson, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra1, 2
Myrios Classics MYR022 (CD, 24/192 FLAC). 2018. Kirill Gerstein, prod.; Stephan Cahen, prod.,1-5 eng.; 1, 2, 4, 5 Paul Hennerich, 1, 2, 4 Doug Decker, 3 engs. DDD. TT: 73:45
Performance *****
Sonics *** (CD), **** (24/192 FLAC)

I grew up with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. I was the youngest in a family not particularly interested in music, and whose record collection consisted of pop music and three oddly assorted classical recordings, all on 78rpm discs: Enrico Caruso singing "Vesti la giubba," Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (on four 12" 78s), and the 1927 recording of Rhapsody in Blue with the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra and Gershwin at the keyboard.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 10, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1966  |  0 comments
Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake & Sleeping Beauty Selections
New Philharmonia Orchestra, Stokowsky
London Phase-4 SPC 21008 (LP); Ampex LCL-75008 (open-reel tape). Tony D'Amato, Marty Wargo, prods.; Arthur Lilley, eng. TT: 46:50.

These are exciting, lilting, concert-style (as opposed to ballet-style) performances of the best-known excerpts from Tchaikovsky's second- and third-most-popular ballets. (First, of course, is the Nutcracker.) The recording is a surprise, after the excesses we've heard on earlier Phase-4 recordings.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 05, 2018  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1967  |  34 comments
An Audio Obstacle Course: The Shure Trackability Test Record
Shure Bros. TTR-101.

Shure's new "Supertrack" V-15 Type II pickup was designed as an answer to all those high-powered discs whose excessive modulations make them shatter all over the place on lesser pickups, But just in case anyone didn't happen to own any of these difficult discs, Shure decided to issue one of these, too. The result is a collection of some of the meanest modulations ever gathered together in one place.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jun 28, 2018  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1968  |  18 comments
Chopin; Nocturnes
Arthur Rubinstein, piano
RCA Victor LSC-7050 (2 LPs) (reissued on CD as RCA Victor Red Seal 0902 663049-2). Max Wilcox, prod.; Tom MacCluskey, Sergio Marcotulli, engs. Recorded August 30–September 2, 1965, 2 February 21, 1967.

If these Nocturnes are never played better than this, we couldn't care less. These are exquisite performances!

The recording, via RCA Victor's Dynagroove process is a far cry from the earlier excesses that gave Dynagroove its horrid reputation among perfectionists. One is simply not aware of the recording at all, as long as it is played at the right volume, which is about what you would hear from a good first-balcony concert-hall seat.

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