US composer Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna is one of the indisputable masterpieces of the 20th century. John Atkinson has recorded the male vocal group Cantus's performances of Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium (on Comfort and Joy: Volume One, Cantus CTS-1204) and Ave Maria Dulcissima (on Cantus, Cantus CTS-1207). (And great recordings they are—one engineer chum thinks JA's Cantus recording of OMM is the single best-engineered choral recording he's ever heard.)
I want to start this year's gift recommendations by briefly revisiting the results of my Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans write-in competition, which ran in the April issue. All 12 winning entries of 12 selections each are posted online (footnote 1).
Ars-Sonum is a Spanish audio company that, as far as I can tell, makes only one product—but it's a doozy (footnote 1). The Filarmonía SE is a tube integrated amplifier that is, in many ways, an homage to Dynaco's iconic Stereo 70 power amplifier of 1959, but the Filarmonía is by no means a slavish copy. Get down to specifics, and it's actually more of a clean-sheet-of-paper design.
My "Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans" write-in competition seems to have been a smashing success. I received 65 entries, and only a very few missed the mark. A few more were obvious, so-so, or lacking in passion. Many were good. But a score or more were of enviably high quality. Choosing the top 12 was tough. At the end, who won a prize and who did not was entirely my own subjective decision. The winning entries are posted in full on Stereophile's website as an appendix to my April column. Here are the points I made online in announcing the results:
The recording project I've mentioned before in this column, that of documenting the historical and significant pipe organs of Rhode Island, is finally (!) in the can. (Except that today, of course, we no longer use cans. Or tape, for that matter.) It has been a learning and growing experience for us all—more than a dozen remote-location recording dates, spread over eight months.
I have not seen Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and I am not likely to. But the phrase cultural learnings of America is a good jumping-off point for an important topic: cultural literacy.
One of the engrossing and rewarding things about the study of history is that, every now and then, someone comes up with a plausible solution to a historical mystery—or some aspect of a historical mystery—that is decades, or even centuries, old. It often is the case that all the evidence was right there under everyone's noses all along. It's just that no one had yet managed to put all the pieces together properly and look at them from the right angle.
While you might have been paying attention to other matters, there has been a quiet revolution in affordable recording technology. What if I told you that I've been making pure Direct Stream Digital (DSD), SACD-quality two-channel recordings using equipment that, from soup to nuts, costs less than $6000? Read on.
Were I trying to make a living by giving piano recitals, David Stanhope's new CD, A Virtuoso Recital (Tall Poppies TP184), just might tempt me to wash down a fistful of pills with a bottle of Scotch. The saving grace being that Stanhope seems to have enough things to occupy himself with in his native Australia. The risk of his showing up in New York City and playing a recital, thereby giving a lot of people existential crises and sleepless nights, seems remote.
The relationship between many audiophiles and well-sung, well-recorded female vocal tracks is like the relationship between alcoholics and alcohol—or between, apparently, quite a few congresspersons and unworked-for money. The sentence, "Thank you, but I really have had enough already," is seldom heard. In defense of our hobby, buying and setting up stereo equipment so that gorgeous singing can enthrall you does no one any harm, and arguably does much good. "Beauty is truth," and all that.
Mark Wilder, senior mastering engineer for Sony Music Studios, looked expectantly from John Atkinson to Bob Saglio to me and asked, "Are you ready?" As it had been my inquiry that had resulted in this mind-boggling, once-in-a-lifetime, peak-experience get-together, and as no one else was speaking up, I replied, "As ready as we'll ever be."
In my October column, I began putting together a stereo system for a hypothetical high-school music teacher who wanted to reproduce in his or her home perhaps 80% of the frequency range and dynamics of live music, but who wanted to spend only about 20% of what an ambitious audio system would cost.