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."
Morten Lauridsen's magisterial work for chorus and orchestra, Lux aeterna, appears in a fresh new recording, in truly excellent sound, on England's Hyperion label. The vocal ensemble Polyphony is accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia; both are led by Stephen Layton. Better yet, in addition to the CD-only version, there is a separate SACD/CD hybrid release (Hyperion SACDA67449), meaning that it is backwardly-compatible with CD players. Furthermore, the SACD layer contains a surround-sound program in addition to the stereo one.
Art and commerce are butting heads once again, now that England's popular Brit Awards include a category for classical music. Last month's inaugural nominees included some highbrow names (Rachmaninoff, Bryn Terfel), but leaned heavily on such "crossover" artists as Paul McCartney for his orchestral forays, and classical violinist Kennedy (formerly known as Nigel Kennedy) for The Kennedy Experience, his CD inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Classical sales are still down, and record companies, one suspects, are latching onto quasi-classical popular works to boost the sector's profile. For traditionalists, of course, this shows that classical music is falling further into the cultural black hole of all things Madonna, Spice Girls, and McDonald's. They're pissed—in the American sense, that is.
The upbeat is the most magic moment in classical music making. Before the conductor brings down his baton for the downbeat, anything and everything are possible in the musical journey that is about to begin. And the upbeat to Mozart's sublime Clarinet Concerto that conductor Robert Bailey was about to give in London's Henry Wood Hall last November gave me an extra frisson—as producer of the recording sessions, I would have to pronounce instant judgment on everything I was about to hear.
When Cantus's artistic coordinator (and Stereophile reader) Erick Lichte phoned me in the summer of 2000 about my recording this Minnesotan male-voice choir, it didn't occur to me that I was entering a long-term relationship. But just as sure as 16-bit digital is not sufficient for long-term musical satisfaction, my first Cantus CD led to a second, and now a third. (All available from this website). For Deep River, I traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where the city has spent millions of dollars to transform the downtown high school into a gloriously warm-sounding, state-of-the-art performing arts center.
Let's start with some music—three discs I recently have been using to evaluate equipment as well as listen to for enjoyment. They are as contrasting in style as one could hope for, but all on an enviably high musical plane. (Space considerations compel brevity approaching that necessary to sell screenplays to producers at cocktail parties, footnote 1)
In the town where I grew up there were two places to buy records: a family-owned department store and the local Woolworth's, both long gone. The first record I ever bought, the 45rpm single of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," came from the former in 1965. I was 11 years old.
"Where can you go in the world anymore where you can be in any kind of atmosphere other than the post-media, post-consumer world that we live in now—one that's available and that's musically rich? So it's very attractive in that way."
And I used to think our annual "Records To Die For" issue was difficult. Whew! When it came down to choosing the 40 most influential rock/pop, jazz, and classical records of the past 40 years, during which this magazine has been the most honest and enjoyable source of high-end audio journalism, my initial list contained more than 200 choices. A painful paring-down process ensued, with input from every member of the Stereophile staff.