Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Aug 21, 2014 0 comments
Amy LaVere: Runaway's Diary
Archer ARR 319611/2 (LP/CD). 2014. Luther Dickinson, prod.; Kevin Houston, eng., Daniel Lyon, asst. eng. ADA/ADD. TT: 38:27.

"It's not your average gal that drinks bourbon neat, walks around with a pocket atlas and drives a big white gear van. I thought she was charming and awfully funny."

Talent and humor has never been a problem for Amy LaVere. Not long after high school she led Last Minute, a Detroit punk band. When we next hear of her, she's in Nashville as part of a husband-and-wife folk/country duo, The Gabe and Amy Show, who released a single, "Blankets of Love," b/w Johnny Cash's "Big River."

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Aug 13, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 1984 4 comments
684rotm.250.jpgBeethoven: Piano Concerto No.5 "The Emperor"
Rudolph Serkin, piano; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond.
Telarc CD-80065 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng.

Vivaldi: "The Four Seasons"
Joseph Silverstein, violin; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond.
Telarc CD-80070 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng.

I have never been a fan of Seiji Ozawa, feeling that his interpretive approach is too often cold and attached. That's not true of this performance of the "Emperor" Concerto. In fact, my only criticism is that the performance seems at time a little too broadly Romantic, where somewhat tighter phrasing would have been in order. Ozawa and Serkin have turned in one of the most satisfying performances in Telarc's catalog, which contains a remarkable number of lackluster performances.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Aug 04, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1984 6 comments
884rotm.ssph.jpgSaint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
Ravel: Mother Goose Suite

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, André Previn, cond.
Philips CD 400-016 2 (CD).

The whimsical Carnival, with its nose-thumbing at Saint-Saëns' contemporaries (eg a lugubrious "Can-Can" and a stately cello rendition of Berlioz's Dance of the Sylphs, from The Damnation of Faust), is given a delightful treatment here, and put on one of the best-sounding CDs I've heard to date from a major record company.

Philips has been less up-front about the roots of its CDs than most other record manufacturers, If fact, they have been downright sneaky about it. This release—billed prominently on the CD jacket as a "Digital Recording"—sounds very much as if it was analog-mastered. The is certainly nothing Philips should ashamed of, because this is a better-sounding recording than most digitally mastered ones.

Robert Baird Posted: Jul 21, 2014 0 comments
The Black Keys: Turn Blue
Nonesuch 7559795555 (LP/CD/HDtracks download). 2014. Black Keys, Danger Mouse, prods.; Kennie Takahashi, eng.; Collin Dupuis, Geoff Neal, Bill Skibbe, asst. engs.; Tchad Blake, mix. TT: 45:09
Performance ****
Sonics ****

There was a time when calling the Black Keys "sexy" would have been thought perversely stunted, given that they were a two-man, raw-as-hell, blow-me-down, frat-rock grinder that jammed and pounded and convinced everyone that their version of Tony Joe White's groove was something new and revolutionary.

Margaret Graham Posted: Jul 16, 2014 1 comments
Bach-Malloch: The Art of Fuguing
The Sheffield Ensemble and California Boy's Choir, Lukas Foss, cond., recorded live at First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood.
Town Hall Records S-20 & S-21 (each 2 LPs, 1979), Sheffield Lab 10047-2-G (CD, 1995). Lincoln Mayorga, prod., Ron Hitchcock, eng., Lincoln Mayorga Doug Sax, CD mastering eng. AAA (LP), AAD (CD).

These 2-disc albums are of unusual interest for several reasons. First, although both are of exactly the same program material, there were recorded with completely different microphone techniques. One was done with the usual (for commercial recordings) multi-microphone set-up and mixdown (S-20). The other (S-21) was done with a single stereo mike—the technique preferred by most audio perfectionists. [This is the version on the 1995 CD reissue—Ed.]

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jul 08, 2014 Published: Oct 01, 1984 3 comments
1084rotmjgh.jpgSaint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Bella Davidovich (pno), Concertgebouw Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi, cond.
Philips CD 410-052 2 (CD), 6514-164 (LP).

At last we're starting to realize some of the promise of CD from a major record company. This is the best CD recording I've heard yet from Philips. Both of these are virtuoso romantic works requiring a big piano sound and the stamina to produce it for 6–10 minutes at a stretch, which is probably why few lady pianists will tackle them. Bella Davidovich pulls these off with great aplomb.

To me, the Saint-Saëns is the better of the two, and is one of the truly great performances of this work. I grudgingly rate it as equal to my long-time favorite, the Rubinstein/Reiner performance on a 1958 RCA LP (LSC-2234), although I would have liked a little more TLC from Ms. Davidovich in the first movement. She seems a little rushed where an occasional lingering caress is indicated, but that is quibbling with what is a really rousing performance.

Robert Baird Posted: Jun 23, 2014 Published: Jul 01, 2014 8 comments
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Texas Hurricane
Epic/Legacy/Analogue Productions AAPB SRV33-BOX (6 LPs, 331?3rpm). 1983–1991/2014. John Hammond Sr., orig. exec. prod.; Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Hammond Jr., Richard Mullen, others, orig. prods.; Richard Mullen, James Geddes, Lincoln Clapp, others, orig. engs.; Chad Kassem, reissue exec. prod.; Ryan Smith, remastering. AAA. TT: 3:55:20
Performance *****
Sonics *****

He was the shining star the blues world had always dreamed of: the rare performer who could break through to the musical mainstream. Yet alas, he flashed across the musical heavens and was gone far too soon, dying in a helicopter crash in August 1990, at the age of 35. That Stevie Ray Vaughan's reign as blues-guitar hero was brief but incendiary is driven home yet again by this spectacular new boxed set from Epic/Legacy and Chad Kassem's Analogue Productions label.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 17, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 1984 3 comments
1284rotm.promo.jpgBeethoven: Symphony 9 in d, Op.125 ("Choral")
Berlin Staatskapelle and Rundfunkchor, Otmar Suitner, cond.; Dietrich Knothe, chorus master; Magdaléna Hajóssyová, soprano; Uta Priew, contralto; Eberhard Büchner, tenor; Manfred Schenk, bass.
Denon CD383C7-7021 (CD).

This is a positively stunning performance, abetted by one of the best-sounding orchestral recordings on CD to date.

I have long felt that the best reading of Beethoven's Ninth ever committed to records was an antique Columbia 78 set with the Vienna Philharmonic and Felix Weingartner (later released on an abominable-sounding LP: SL-165). I almost hate to day it, because the oldest idols die the hardest, but Suitner's is better! This is a monumental, consummately joyous Ninth that leaves the listener with a wonderful feeling of elation. If the orchestral playing is at times a little less than world-class and a couple of the soloists not quite up to star level, so what? This may well be the definitive Ninth on CD, both interpretively and sonically.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jun 09, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 1985 1 comments
Performance Recordings is the closest thing to a one-man label. James Boyk is president, A&R director, musical director, recording engineer, production manager, jacket notes author, and the star performer. He is also Artist in Residence and lecturer in music and engineering (specifically sound recording and reproduction) at Cal Tech. And he happens to be one of digital's most ardent detractors, having conducted, and widely publicized, several controlled listening tests that proved to his satisfaction that digital recordings are destructive to musical sound. (I will not question his methodology or conclusions here; suffice it to say that James is as stalwartly pro-analog and anti-digital as it is possible to be.)
Robert Baird Posted: May 22, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 2014 0 comments
The link between jazz and the works of Igor Stravinsky is well known. In Conversations with Igor Stravinsky, his landmark 1959 collaboration with Robert Craft, the composer mentions jazz artists like Art Tatum and Charlie Christian. The fact that Stravinsky was captivated by the improvisational freedom of jazz and its insistent, inventive rhythms makes all his work, especially Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), a natural for jazz players to play and quote from, and over the years they have more than obliged.
Steven W. Watkinson Posted: May 07, 2014 Published: Jul 01, 1985 4 comments
Anyone who thinks the ultra-chic New York progressive music scene lacks a sense of humor hasn't heard Laurie Anderson. Her last album, Mister Heartbreak, proved to be the most listenable and entertaining example of the genre on years. It also provided a sound quality that put most "audiophile" discs to shame.
Robert Baird Posted: Apr 22, 2014 Published: May 01, 2014 1 comments
WANTED: Jazz Hero. Must be willing and able to bring stunning new creative energies to a musical genre in danger of becoming stale and repetitive. Must be comfortable with a Marsalis level of celebrity. Saxophone or trumpet players preferred. Old men need not apply.

In 2011, jazz prayers were answered with the release of When the Heart Emerges Glistening, a brilliantly inventive mainstream jazz album led by Ambrose Akinmusire, a photogenic, 28-year-old trumpeter from Oakland, California. The young man had lots of fresh ideas, speed and dexterity to burn, and a unique tone, the combination of which brought back a flood of memories: Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Pops.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 15, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1985 6 comments
885rotm.250.jpgMozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Posthorn Serenade
Prague Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras conducting.
Telarc CD 80108 (CD). Robert Woods, prod., Jack Renner, eng. DDD.

Holt's First Law of Recording states: "The better the performance, the worse the recording—and vice versa." It's true; really fine recordings of superb musical performances are so rare that the discovery of one such gem is cause for rejoicing. Well, you can rejoice: this is one of them.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Apr 10, 2014 Published: Sep 01, 1985 1 comments
985rotm.shost250.jpgShostakovich: Symphony 15
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting.
JVC/Melodiya CD VDC-528 (CD). Igor Veprintsev, eng. AAD.

I have been wondering recently if we aren't seeing the beginning of the end of rotten recordings. I'm now not too surprised when yet another superlative-sounding Telarc or Reference Recordings disc arrives for review, but when a Soviet-made Melodiya blows me away with its sound, not to say a stupendous performance, I must conclude that something earthshaking is going on.

Robert Levine Posted: Mar 26, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 2014 3 comments
Beethoven: The Symphonies and Reflections
Symphonies 1–9; works by Giya Kancheli, Misato Mochizuki, Raminta Šerkšnyte, Rodion Shchedrin, Johannes Maria Staud, Jörg Widmann
Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Christiane Karg, soprano; Mihoko Fujimura, mezzo-soprano; Michael Schade, tenor; Michael Volle, baritone.
BR Klassik 900119 (6 CDs). 2013. Wilhelm Meister, prod.; Ulrike Schwarz, Peter Urban, Sunao Shimazaki, engs; Mechtild Homburg, Elisabeth Panzer, Bernadette Rüb, asst. engs. DDD. 6:27:31
Performance ****
Sonics *****

These live performances of Beethoven's nine symphonies were recorded mostly in Tokyo's Suntory Hall, October through December 2012 (except 3 and 6, recorded in Munich's Herkulessaal); the ancillary material—the Reflections of this set's title—are works by contemporary composers commissioned by conductor Mariss Jansons and recorded in Munich and Tokyo in 2008, 2009, and 2012. Intended as homages to Beethoven (as if he needed any), they are supposed to reflect what these composers feel Beethoven might be writing if he were alive today. Each new work is meant to denote an aspect of a specific symphony, and the CDs are (mostly) arranged so that we can hear each after the symphony that inspired it. Some of these pieces are daring and innovative, and add value to these marvelous performances of the symphonies themselves.

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