1992 Records To Die For Page 12
LAURIE ANDERSON: Strange Angels
Warner Bros. 25900-2 (CD). Eric Liljestrand, eng.; Laurie Anderson, Rona Baran, prods. ADD. TT: 46:03
Point One, I just like it; it grows on you. Point Two, it has great range and variety. Point Three, it has humor and life. Confident and expressive, Anderson's creative quality stands out from the crowd.
As regards fidelity, that is also very good, with a wide frequency and dynamic range, excellent transients and localization, and fine timing. It is a valuable tool for testing equipment, yet still gives great pleasure after innumerable playings.
J.S. BACH: Orchestral Suites 3 & 4, BWV 1068-69; Concerto Movement in D, BWV 1045; Sinfonia, BWV 29
Roy Goodman, The Brandenburg Consort
Hyperion CDA66502 (CD only). Tony Faulkner, eng.; Martin Compton, prod. DDD. TT: 52:19
I cannot find adequate critical terms to discuss the music of J.S. Bach; for me, it speaks for itself. The Brandenburg Consort under Roy Goodman provides a believable sound, lively and enthusiastic, yet faithful to the spirit of the works.
On the technical side, Tony Faulkner has provided us with a closer approach to the original sound: lush strings, faithful brass timbres, and a perspective balanced between a purist's sense of distance and the need to preserve enough immediacy to satisfy a wider listening public. The technique for this pure digital recording included a customized DCS oversampling encoder fed from a Paravicini tube mixer. The microphones were a pair of refurbished tube devices and the Neumann M49; the venue was St. Barnabas, Finchley, North London.
So this year the tyrannical goose-stepping Wagnerian, Herr Lehnert, decrees we only get to add two more to the heap. That makes it easy, sez I. I'll make 'em both analog LPs, and include one popular and one classical recording. (For the latter, I pick a great Mercury reissue, the Prokofiev Scythian/Love for Three Oranges Suites, SR 90003 original issue, reissued as SR 90531 with equally fine pressing quality.) So what happens? Harry Pearson goes and raves all over about this LP. He's right, of course, but he's also made sure you aren't going to find one under a hundred bucks. (My mint copy was $8. Eat your heart out.) Wait for the CD, and instead grab...
BERLIOZ: Symphonie Fantastique
Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra
RCA LSC-2608 (LP). Richard Mohr, prod.; Lewis Layton, eng. AAA.
It's true that Munch doesn't really get things going until we're marching to the scaffold, but once he does, look out. The BSO is captured in their golden age with all of that beautiful Symphony Hall ambience. Unlike a lot of the great RCAs, this one has real floor-shaking bass, even on my dogless Red Seal (Shaded Dogs have a dog, why don't Red Seals have a seal?) pressing that I got for four clams. The soundstage goes on forever, the bells are fabulous, and when the double basses dig in, you can hear and feel them. Sure, the Symphonie Fantastique isn't great music, but if it gives Julia Roberts the creeps, it's okay with me.
I also figured it was about time an Emmylou Harris record got into this section; unfortunately, most of them have been treated with the Donivan Cowart Miracle Brightness Enhancer and Bass Remover.;r Fortunately, there's an exception...
EMMYLOU HARRIS: Roses in the Snow
Warner Bros WBSK 3422 (LP only recommended). Brian Ahern, prod.; Donivan Cowart, Brian Ahern, Stuart Taylor, engs. AAA. TT: ca 30:00
I reckon somebody must've sat on Cowart at the mastering sessions, and I gather from the "TML" engraved in the run-out area that the sitter was none other than the great Doug Sax. This is the best sound Emmylou ever got, and the gorgeous bluegrass-tinged arrangements ring out clean and clear. ELH was at the top of her form for this record, one she had really wanted to do. At its best, which is damn seldom, country music is about the inherent sadness of the human condition: mess up, and you get into pathos and unintentional humor. Emmylou walks the wire perfectly, and does a few somersaults on the way. The best, a super disc, whatever. Grab it before HP hears it.
Robert E. Benson
STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring, Petrouchka
Sir Colin Davis, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam
Philips 416 498-2 (CD only). ADD. TT: 68:53
The Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Eduard van Beinum recorded The Rite of Spring in 1946 for English Decca, a dynamic performance not too well conveyed by the engineering. The Concertgebouw is an ideal orchestra to perform this music, and it is a pleasure to state that Colin Davis's superlative 1976 performance has been magnificently served by the Philips engineers, who have wonderfully captured the richness and sonorities of this orchestra playing in their own hall. Sheer orchestral weight and impact are quite stunning, although the reverberation does mask some percussion impact; there still is no question that this is one of the truly great recordings of this music. At mid-price, and with a fine Petrouchka as accompaniment, this is a major issue by any standards, essential for anyone interested in The Rite of Spring.
English Dances; Scottish Dances, Op.59; Cornish Dances, Op.91; Irish Dances, Op.126; Sarabande and Polka from Solitaire
Malcolm Arnold, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Lyrita BRCD 201 (CD only). ADD/DDD. TT: 60:51
Arnold's mastery of orchestration is exemplified by the works on this superb CD, a repertory that exploits the full resources of the orchestra, accented by brass and percussion. His four clever sets of dances are guaranteed audience pleasers, far removed from the rather neurotic complexities heard in his 7th and 8th symphonies. Arnold's recordings of the English, Scottish, and Cornish dances date back more than a decade, and were once available on a Lyrita LP; the Irish Dances and Solitaire excepts are recent digital recordings. There is no difference between the analog and digital sound---kudos to Lyrita's continuing sonic expertise. Arnold's performances of his own music are zesty, with superlative orchestral playing; the orchestra sounds like it's having a wonderful time. The Polka, with its snarling brass and bass-drum accents, easily could become a favored demonstration recording for the finest stereo rigs.
MAHLER: Symphony 4
Sylvia Stahlman, soprano; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam; Sir Georg Solti
London 417 745-2 (CD only). John Culshaw, prod.; Kenneth Wilkinson, eng. ADD. TT: 54:24
Recorded February 20-21, 1961, about a decade before Georg Solti became "Sir," this performance displays his penchant for brisk tempi, always a basic element of his conducting. To some listeners, this interpretation of the gentle Fourth may seem too hasty, but it is a reading of enormous beauty, magnificently played, with Stahlman an ideal soloist in the finale. Sonically the recording is resplendent---rich, defined, silky-smooth strings, brilliant brass, and there is depth to the stereo image as well as presence. Few Concertgebouw recordings since have approached the sonic magnificence of this remarkable release. Immediately after completing this recording, on February 22-23 the same production team recorded the Concertgebouw conducted by Anatole Fistoulari in a suite from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, a dazzling performance with stunning sonics. Inexplicably, Decca/London has yet to issue this on CD, although it can be heard on a budget cassette (417 881-4).
KORNGOLD: The Sea Hawk
Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Charles Gerhardt, National Philharmonic Orchestra
RCA CD 7890 (CD only). George Korngold, prod.; Kenneth Wilkinson, eng. ADD. TT: 70:05
The Sea Hawk was the first release in RCA's Classic Film Score Series, issued on LP in 1972 (LSC 3330). It was a spectacular success, followed by 14 other releases, all presenting some of the finest film scores beautifully played, outstanding sonically. The first CD, Return of the Jedi, was issued in 1983 (14748), followed in 1985 by Sunset Boulevard, featuring music of Franz Waxman (7017). Gerhardt prepared the entire 15-LP series on 12 well-filled CDs; The Sea Hawk was the initial release of the revised CD series. For that CD, some of the Korngold scores are extended with new material added; CD 7890 is a brilliant success in every way. RCA then, inexplicably, decided to issue the series in Dolby Surround Sound which, in spite of RCA's claims, is not, as here engineered, compatible with non-Dolby equipment. Even when played back with Dolby Surround equipment, the encoded recordings are not as good as the originals. There is a marked loss of high frequencies, and bass is not as well defined. RCA has withdrawn all non-Dolby CDs in the Classic Film Series; The Sea Hawk has now been issued on Dolby CD (60863), eliminating the added material as well as much of the sonic quality of the original (the Dolby Sea Hawk is almost 20 minutes shorter than CD 7890). Try to pick up a copy of CD 7890 while there still might be one available---it is an engineering triumph and a sad memento of RCA's ill-advised Dolby trashing of what could have been a lasting Silver Disc tribute to the finest in film music.
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker
Boys' Choir of St. Bavo Cathedral, Haarlem, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam; Antal Doráti
Philips 6747 257 (2 LPs only). AAA. TT: 83:03
There are many fine recordings of Tchaikovsky's enchanting ballet, but none are superior to this glowing performance of the summer of 1975, Doráti's third recording of the complete score. (His first, for Mercury in 1954 with the Minneapolis Symphony, has yet to be issued on CD; his second, recorded with the London Symphony in the early '60s, has just been issued on Mercury 432 750-2). No other recording boasts the sense of magic heard on this sumptuous account, distinguished by the virtuoso playing of the Concertgebouw. Philips's engineering is extraordinary, beautifully capturing the richness, warmth, and clarity of the Concertgebouw; few Philips recordings in this venue are as effective in depth and dynamic range. This Nutcracker is as close as one can get to a "definitive" performance and recording.
The 2-LP set is magnificent, but for silver Philips has chosen poorly. Instead of issuing the complete Doráti recording (which is infinitely superior to their later digital Bychkov/Berlin Philharmonic version), Philips offers a budget CD (426 177-2) of 41 minutes of excerpts, a CD that could have contained almost the entire ballet. Of course they should have issued the complete recording on two 2 CDs, with an appropriate coupling, perhaps one (or two) of the Tchaikovsky orchestral suites that Doráti and the New Philharmonia recorded so brilliantly in the mid-'60s. The LPs have been deleted. If you can find a set, grab it; it is unlikely now that the entire recording will be issued on CD.