Recording of February 1984: Beethoven/Enescu Violin Sonatas

BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in G, Op.96
ENESCU: Violin Sonata No.3, Op.25 (In Rumanian Style)

David Abel, violin, Julie Steinberg, piano
Wilson Audio W-8315 (LP). David Wilson, prod., eng. AAA.

Oh, what a breath of fresh air this is! An audiophile recording of real music that isn't bombastic, overblown, or high-powered.

Imagine, if you can, a private recital in your own home by two consummate artists who play these works for their own delight as much as for yours. Imagine sound so completely and disarmingly natural that after 30 seconds you're unaware it's reproduced. That's what this record is all about (footnote 1).

I could rhapsodize endlessly about this record, but I won't. Suffice it to say that if you think there's even a remote chance you'll like this music, you will be positively mesmerized by this recording of it. I'm forced to wonder, though, what would have happened to the sales of chamber music recordings (traditionally the worst sellers) if ones like this had been available ten years ago.

I am being restrained about this record simply because my inclination is to go completely overboard. Could you envision a recording of piano and violin getting Stereophile's coveted Definitive Disc Award. I can. This may be next.—J. Gordon Holt

LA Comments: I won't be so restrained. To my mind, this is of the most significant records I've every heard. It, along with Tafelmusik and Symphonie Fantastique records from Reference Recordings and the Strauss and Dvorák record from Sheffield Lab, marks the breakthrough of audiophile record companies into the mainstream of classical music. This is welcome news indeed, particularly coming from Wilson Audio. David Wilson's recordings have tended to favor the spectacular, although his organ recordings have been well-received by a larger audience.

Even more interesting, this record retains the virtues of an audiophile evaluation record. The violin sound on this disc is astonishingly real: when heard both at CES and in my home it sounded as if the violin was right in the room! It's the first time I've heard this effect with a violin and a gorgeous violin it is. As a bonus, we hear the piano's lower registers rendered very convincingly: lots of authority, but not overpowering. This recording was done with Dave's faithful Revox A77 (modified); I can't wait to hear what he does with his new tape recorder from John Curl.

Not only that, the performers, as mentioned by JGH, appear to be in love with their music-making. This record captures the feeling of being at a truly inspired performance—which is one of the really exciting things about music, even when the performers are not internationally known. Steinberg and Abel appear to have played together a lot. Steinberg tends to be the more forceful performer, Abel the more lyrical.

The two pieces contrast greatly. The Beethoven sonata is one of his more gentle and lyrical pieces; the Enescu is passionate, almost violent. Each piece is presented in a unique style—one might almost suspect the performers were not the same. I enjoyed the Beethoven more, but I think the performers were more excited by the Enescu. Overall, it's hard for me to imagine a reader of this magazine who would not be delighted to own this record.—Larry Archibald


Footnote 1: Holt's Law of Recordings—"The better the performance, the worse the sound"—is being soundly pilloried these days. Its repeal may soon be necessary, which would not make Holt at all unhappy.—J. Gordon Holt
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COMMENTS
Kal Rubinson's picture

Digital copies of Wilson Audio recordings are now being made available by Naxos:

NAXOS OF AMERICA LAUNCHES EXCLUSIVE WORLDWIDE DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION OF THE WILSON AUDIOPHILE RECORDINGS CATALOG

Nearly a decade before launching one of the high-end’s most successful loudspeaker companies, Dave Wilson began a series of music recordings that quickly gained attention of the audiophile community for their realism and musical integrity.   From 1977 to 1995, 33 recordings were released on vinyl and later, CD—a catalog still prized by collectors today.  Now a number of those original recordings are being remastered and will be re-released digitally on the Wilson Audiophile Recordingslabel.

The first two recordings will be released in July on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and all other digital retail platforms. Included in this cycle will be Recital  a highly acclaimed recording of organ music that spans four centuries and is performed by James B. Welch, and an album of Beethoven and Enesco Sonatas performed by David Abel (violin) and Julie Steinberg (piano). Both recordings were produced and engenieered by David Wilson in the 1980s..

Using minimally placed, carefully chosen microphones mated with custom-built recording equipment, Dave Wilson sought to capture the soundstage, dynamics, and harmonic richness of chamber, organ, big band, and jazz performances.  Commented Wilson, "I love the live sound of well-played acoustical instruments!  There is something about that sound’s complexity, vividness and sheer beauty which, frankly, mesmerizes me.  It always has!  So location recording turned out to be the perfect way for me to get “up close and personal” with the sound of the music the artists were performing.”

About Wilson Audio and Wilson Audiophile Recordings

Wilson Audio is dedicated to the highest level of quality recordings and reproduction of our musical heritage. Wilson Audiophile Recordings are considered among the best sounding recordings ever made.

Widely considered by critics as the finest loudspeakers ever built, the WAMM and WATT were originally designed expressly as professional references for the evaluation of master tapes, test pressings, and associated equipment, as well as basic research into the psychoacoustics of the listening phenomenon. Not surprisingly, due to their musically correct accuracy, and meticulous craftsmanship, Wilson Audio loudspeakers have been enthusiastically received into the homes of the most discriminating listeners and art collectors. www.wilsonaudio.com/wilson-audiophile.php

Wilson Audio is committed to developing and producing products that genuinely advance the state of the art of fine music reproduction. The company’s greatest satisfaction comes from the knowledge that our products enrich the lives of music-lovers around the world."

MVBC's picture

Amazing read, including a perfect sales pitch and hagiography!

Yet, NOT ONE SOUND EXTRACT! Keep it up guys... crying

John Atkinson's picture

MVBC wrote:
Amazing read, including a perfect sales pitch and hagiography!

I thought it obvious that KR's comment was quoting the Wilson press release.

MVBC wrote:
Yet, NOT ONE SOUND EXTRACT! Keep it up guys...

We are thinking about including Spotify links in our on-line record reviews. But in the mean time, this 1984 Wilson LP has become an audiophile classic. It really is one of the most natural presentations of a violin and piano I have ever heard. I fully echo Gordon's and Larry's recommendation.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

MVBC's picture

Sound extracts, or YouTube videos are an obligatory inclusion especially in classical music since many versions of the repertoire are available. Not only does it allow one listener to appreciate the skills, intelligence of the performer, but it provides an objective way to cut through the media PR machine that brings agents, presenters and critics into a self serving vicious circle of praise. How many "pianist of his generation" have we been fed in order to sell seats in a concert hall?

I would go further in saying that a performer who does not have a website with sound or video links or a presenter who cannot offer a few links about the performer they present, are in my opinion trying to pull a fast one on their audience.

So impressions are very nice, but in the end, listening to an extract will confirm or not arguments of authority.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Actually, it was a Naxos press release.

Mdk303's picture

Romanian NOT Rumanian.Everytime.I can't even...

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