Mozart, Editing, & HI-FI '99

"Damned Mozart!"

I was assembling a performance of Mozart's Piano Quartet in G Minor, K.478, from the recordings I'd made at the 1998 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. From my musician days, I'm well aware that while the notes of a Mozart score can look simple on the page, there is nowhere in this music for a musician to hide. I remember being made to feel as if my fingers were made of concrete by two measures of repeated eighth notes in a Mozart trio. Sixteen notes, every one the same, yet all I was aware of were my tiny inexactitudes of attack on each note, the tiny tremblings in the musical pulse. When it comes to performing (rather than listening), give me Vivaldi—what does it matter if one or two notes of his lightning-fast scales and arpeggios go slightly awry?

Sitting at my digital audio workstation, it was becoming obvious that anyone editing a recording of a Mozart work is rendered equally naked. Unlike other kinds of music, where flurries of 16th notes or intrinsic rubato in the playing can conceal the mysteries of the editor's art, the timing of each splice in a Mozart piece has to be perfect. You always cut at the beginning of the following note, for example, in order to preserve the rhythmic flow, but determining exactly where a note's "beginning" might be is an art, not a science. I was able to learn the rudiments of this art by watching a master tape splicer, Hugh Davies of Capitol Records, for the best part of two days when he assembled the performances for the first two Stereophile recordings, Poem and Intermezzo. And Hugh was working with ½" analog tape!

The advent of digital recording and editing has made the mechanics of editing more friendly. With a computer workstation, you can rehearse each splice (or, to be more correct, each crossfade between two file segments) to your heart's content. I was able to experiment with each join in the Mozart quartet by shifting the exact point by several milliseconds at a time, until the musical flow was uninterrupted. And while the work involved in the editing and mastering of this project turned out to be much greater than anticipated, I'll still be able to get the master prepared in time for CDs to be available at HI-FI '99.

Yes, once again, it's Show time! From Wednesday, May 11 through Thursday, May 13 (Trade Days, sponsored by the Academy Advancing High-End Audio & Video); and from Friday, May 14 through Sunday, May 16 (Consumer Days), Chicago's historic Palmer House Hilton hotel will host more than a hundred audio and home-theater companies as they exhibit their wares to thousands of audiophiles from all across the United States, with sound and video quality to die for. HI-FI '99 is the 13th audio show since 1987 to have been promoted by this magazine, and now also by Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and Home Theater magazines. An advance ticket covering all three Consumer Days costs $25 ($35 at the door); a one-day advance ticket costs $20.

As always at our Shows, there will be a full program of musical concerts, workshops, and seminars—all free to those who have paid admission. As well as the perennially popular "Ask the Editors" sessions, there will be workshops on loudspeakers, home-theater room design, DTV, DVD-Audio and SACD, and "A Beginner's Guide to High-End Audio." Musical events will include: a Saturday evening of classic blues sponsored by Acoustic Sounds/Analogue Productions and featuring guitarist/singer/songwriter Jimmy D. Lane, guitarist Jimmie Lee Robinson, harp player Eomot RaSun, and 83-year-old guitarist/singer David "Honeyboy" Edwards; Chicago's own Patricia Barber in a concert of cool jazz, sponsored by VTL; Classic Records' new discovery, singer/songwriter Lorna Hunt; bluesman Doug MacLeod with legendary harpman Carey Bell and the great Mighty Flyers rhythm section, courtesy of AudioQuest Music; and the Patrick Noland Trio and jazz groups Union and Rebel Souls, all sponsored by Naim Audio. And fresh from sessions at Chad Kassem's Blue Heaven Studio, where he will have just finished recording the Brahms and Mozart Clarinet Quintets for Stereophile, Antony Michaelson of Musical Fidelity will perform these works with a string quartet led by Adrian Levine, erstwhile co-concertmaster of the Academy of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields. This Friday-evening concert is presented by Audio Advisor and me.

I'll also be limbering up my bass-playing fingers at the Show, to perform two concerts with a jazz quartet consisting Stereophile writers Bob Reina (piano) and Zan Stewart (tenor sax), and high-end manufacturer/distributor Allen Perkins of Immedia (drums). Sure glad we're not playing Mozart!

And the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival Mozart recording? It joins that most passionate of Elgar's works, the symphonic-scaled Piano Quintet, plus the world-premiere recording of Marc Neikrug's haunting Pueblo Songs as sung by the dedicatee, soprano Heidi Grant Murphy—all on Stereophile's new Bravo! CD (STPH014-2). Featured musicians are violinists Pinchas Zukerman, Jaime Laredo, and Daniel Phillips, violists Robert Rinehart and Cynthia Phelps, cellists Sharon Robinson and Eric Kim, and pianists Marc Neikrug and Joseph Kalichstein—almost 80 minutes of wonderfully performed chamber music. You'll be able to read about the project in the June Stereophile, and order the disc from the Stereophile website after the Show in May.—John Atkinson