Readers Review Stereophile's Poem LP Fifth Runner-Up
Stereophile's initial effort to conceive and produce what it regards as an example of an audiophile LP of definitive quality has been a success from almost any technical perspective. The recording, entitled Poem, reproduces works for solo flute with piano accompaniment.
The sound of the record persuades a listener that it is possible to create a sonic impression of actuality. The superlative surfaces of the record provide such quiet as to approach that of a DDD compact disc. The soundstaging is dramatic, but happily constrained to dimensions commensurate with music of this sort. The timbre of the sound, both of the piano and of the flute, is as authentic-sounding as anything this reviewer has experienced other than hearing an actual performance. In short, from a technical point of view, the collaboration of Stereophile and Water Lily Acoustics (its technical partner) has been a triumph and a solid contribution to the recording art.
In light of the foregoing, one cannot but muse about the widely presumed, eventual demise of the LP medium at the hands of CDs and tapes. One wonders if such a fate would have been inevitable had commercial recording companies been willing to lavish the kind of patient effort, technical dedication, and capital risk that Stereophile's Poem suggests might have been theirs to do.
The music of Poem is arguably less than worthy of the technical achievement the recording represents. It may be that flutist Gary Woodward sought music that would best exhibit his patent virtuosity, with less consideration for its artistic significance. To none of the three composers presented—Griffes, Reinecke, and Prokofiev—can there be ascribed the transcendental stature of the few, true masters of music composition. It might have been salutary had flutist Woodward leavened his perhaps self-serving selections with, say, a composition of the period 1750-1850 from a master's pen. One looks forward the more, therefore, to Stereophile's second effort in definitive LP recording, as it will present piano works by Brahms.
While Gary Woodward's flute playing was thrilling to hear from a standpoint of sheer virtuosity, it would be inexcusable to omit reference to Brooks Smith's piano accompaniment. Pianist Smith provides one of the more artistic, sympathetic, and considerate piano accompaniments this reviewer has heard. In both the Reinecke and the Prokofiev sonatas were opportunities for domination by the piano. Brooks Smith does not stray from a path of sensitive support. Gary Woodward knew what he was doing if he persuaded Smith to accompany him; and Smith must have recognized in Woodward a soloist of stature beyond his years.
The success of Stereophile's first recording effort is such as to generate the hope that Stereophile will continue such effort beyond its announced second audiophile LP.—John C. Guenther, Stuart, FL