A few conductors have perhaps equaled Georg Solti in their conducting of Richard Wagner's baton-breaking Der Ring des NibelungenKarl Böhm, Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Keilberth, and Reginald Goodall have all had coherent visions of the work which they were able to translate effectively to disc. But no one has ever equaled what Solti, producer John Culshaw, and what looks increasingly like a hitherto unsuspected golden age of Wagner singers, together accomplished: what is still the recording art's crowning achievement.
There has been much argument in audiophile circles about whether an LP or a CD is a more faithful representation of a master tape. Although we recorded Robert Silverman's thrilling performance of the Liszt B-Minor Piano Sonata for CD release, we also had in mind to issue an LP. As the source for both would be the same, the question we can answer is: Will an LP cut straight from a 20-bit master tape via a Class A 20-bit DAC sound closer than a CD noise-shaped to 16 bits from the same 20-bit original?
A musical highlight for us at Stereophile in 1995 was the opportunity to record several concerts at the world-famous Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. The result was a Stereophile CD, Festival (STPH007-2), which features the original chamber version of Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, Darius Milhaud's jazz-inspired La création du monde, and the premiere recording of the 1995 Festival commission, Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul (see Stereophile, January 1996, Vol.19 No.1, p.132). We were pleased, therefore, to be asked back by the Festival in 1996. Once again we have produced a CD of live recordings, Serenade (STPH009-2), which features chamber works by Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorák.
"Rarely, if ever, can this densely written sonata have been presented so lucidly with each note precisely in place...the dramatic and lyrical aspects were never slighted or taken for granted." —Peter G. Davis, writing in the New York Times about Robert Silverman's New York debut in 1978, when he performed the Liszt B-Minor Piano Sonata in Alice Tully Hall.
The inspiration for this project came from Stereophile's Gretchen Grogan and Erich Vollmer of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Music Festivals are perhaps the healthiest aspect of classical music making, allowing ad hoc ensembles to chart the farthest reaches of the repertoire, as well as retracing the familiar ground of the great works. Why not, they thought, capture a representative selection of works performed at the 1995 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival? This would not only document some of the great performances to be heard, but also allow music lovers everywhere to participate in what has increasingly been recognized as one of the US's best summer music festivals.
"He was a warrior...What he did was pry a chink out of the wall and let the light come through the hole. It's up to us to keep that hole open. We've got a world to save. This guy is going to kick our ass if we get up there and we haven't carried the torches." ---Ken Kesey, Funeral for Jerry Garcia, 8/11/95
Back in the spring of 1990, Stereophile introduced its first Test CD, featuring a mixture of test signals and musical tracks recorded by the magazine's editors and writers. Even as we were working on that first disc, however, we had plans to produce a second disc which would expand on the usefulness of the first and feature a more varied selection of music. The result was our Test CD 2, released in May 1992.
Wandering through Tower Records the other night, I was struck by the amazing diversity of music available to us. There's music from every part of the globe, for every taste and interest, from "show-me-the-good-parts" compilations of classical highlights to obscure releases by unknown artists. There's music for the ecstatic, music for the angry, music for the straight, the gay, the bent, and the twisted. The subcategories replicate like rabbits, as if in a demographer's nightmare. Genus spawn species, which quickly mutates into subspecies, race, tribe: cult begets subcult.
The Incredible String Band
Hannibal HNCD 4437 (CD only). TT: 45:15 The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion
Hannibal HNCD 4438 (CD only). TT: 50:06 The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
Hannibal HNCD 4421 (CD only). TT: 50:12 Wee Tam & the Big Huge
Hannibal HNCD 4802 (2 CDs only). TT: 87:49 Changing Horses
Hannibal HNCD 4439 (CD only). TT: 50:24 I Looked Up
Hannibal HNCD 4440 (CD only). TT: 41:30 All above: Joe Boyd, prod.; John Wood, eng. AAD.
For a while, I've been hearing rumors that the record-club editions of popular compact discs differ from the original versions produced by the record companies. I've met listeners who claim their club versions are compressed in dynamics, and some have reduced bass. Perhaps the clubs, in their infinite wisdom, think the typical member has a lower-class stereo system (in fact, the opposite may be true). Maybe these lower classes could benefit from some judicious dynamic compression, equalization, and digital remastering.
"What's that noise?" Bob Harley and I looked at each other in puzzlement. We thought we'd debugged the heck out of the recording setup, but there, audible in the headphones above the sound of Robert Silverman softly stroking the piano keys in the second Scherzo of Schumann's "Concerto Without Orchestra" sonata, was an intermittent crackling sound. It was almost as if the God of Vinyl was making sure there would be sufficient surface noise on our live recording to endow it with the Official Seal of Audiophile Approval. Bob tiptoed out of the vestry where we'd set up our temporary control room and peeked through a window into the church, where a rapt audience was sitting as appropriately quiet as church mice.
I sometimes do crazy things to experience live music. In my late teens I met a woman—a friend of a friend of my girlfriend—who was a flautist attending the Mannes School of Music in New York City. She was a classic New Yorker, from a classic New York family. Though apparently demure and retiring, she had fearlessly ridden the city subways since childhood, taking the Broadway line at any hour of day or night (her stop was Dyckman Street, above 200th). All of her parents' money and energy, such as it was, had gone into their daughter's musical career, and I was so inspired by this level of focus and devotion that I hitchhiked from Boston to New York and back in order to attend her first concert, a performance of the two Mozart flute concerti. My presence was remarked upon as the act of a true friend, but I was the beneficiary: It was a great concert, and a good start to a life of experiencing the "call" of live music.
"Like many audiophiles I have often sped home from a concert to fire up the audio system, and then, to the sore vexation of my wife and guests, spent the rest of the evening plunged in the morbid contemplation of what, exactly, was missing."
THE COMPLETE STAX/VOLT SINGLES, 1959-1968 (Footnote 1) 244 songs by Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, The Bar-Kays, The Mar-Keys, and many, many others Atlantic 7-82218-2 (9 CDs only). Reissue producer: Steve Greenberg. AAD. TT: 10:52:07