US composer Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna is one of the indisputable masterpieces of the 20th century. John Atkinson has recorded the male vocal group Cantus's performances of Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium (on Comfort and Joy: Volume One, Cantus CTS-1204) and Ave Maria Dulcissima (on Cantus, Cantus CTS-1207). (And great recordings they are—one engineer chum thinks JA's Cantus recording of OMM is the single best-engineered choral recording he's ever heard.)
I want to start this year's gift recommendations by briefly revisiting the results of my Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans write-in competition, which ran in the April issue. All 12 winning entries of 12 selections each are posted online (footnote 1).
Ars-Sonum is a Spanish audio company that, as far as I can tell, makes only one product—but it's a doozy (footnote 1). The Filarmonía SE is a tube integrated amplifier that is, in many ways, an homage to Dynaco's iconic Stereo 70 power amplifier of 1959, but the Filarmonía is by no means a slavish copy. Get down to specifics, and it's actually more of a clean-sheet-of-paper design.
My "Musical Cultural Literacy for Americans" write-in competition seems to have been a smashing success. I received 65 entries, and only a very few missed the mark. A few more were obvious, so-so, or lacking in passion. Many were good. But a score or more were of enviably high quality. Choosing the top 12 was tough. At the end, who won a prize and who did not was entirely my own subjective decision. The winning entries are posted in full on Stereophile's website as an appendix to my April column. Here are the points I made online in announcing the results:
The recording project I've mentioned before in this column, that of documenting the historical and significant pipe organs of Rhode Island, is finally (!) in the can. (Except that today, of course, we no longer use cans. Or tape, for that matter.) It has been a learning and growing experience for us all—more than a dozen remote-location recording dates, spread over eight months.
McIntosh: "...for the love of music..." by Ken Kessler. McIntosh Laboratory, Inc., 2006. $150.00. Hardcover, 12" by 12" by 1.25", 315 pp. ISBN 0-9787236-0-0. Available from McIntosh dealers and McIntosh Laboratory, Inc., 2 Chambers Street, Binghamton, NY 13903. Tel: (800) 538-6576.
I have not seen Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and I am not likely to. But the phrase cultural learnings of America is a good jumping-off point for an important topic: cultural literacy.
One of the engrossing and rewarding things about the study of history is that, every now and then, someone comes up with a plausible solution to a historical mystery—or some aspect of a historical mystery—that is decades, or even centuries, old. It often is the case that all the evidence was right there under everyone's noses all along. It's just that no one had yet managed to put all the pieces together properly and look at them from the right angle.