Recording of the Month

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jul 18, 2019  |  4 comments
Henry Brant: Ice Field
Cameron Carpenter, organ, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Edwin Outwater, Conds.
SFS Media SFS 0075 (24/48 WAV). 2019. Jack Vad, prod, and eng.; Roni Jules, Gus Pollek, Jonathan Stevens, Denise Woodward, supporting engs.; Jack Vad, Mark Willsher, John Loose, Atmos post-prod. DDD. TT: 24.31
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Even though Henry Brant's mind-boggling Ice Field for orchestra and organ won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2002—the year after its premiere—and years later was revisited by the San Francisco Symphony, for which it was commissioned, no recording format has succeeded at capturing its musical and spatial wonders. Until now.

John Swenson  |  Jun 20, 2019  |  1 comments
Herbie Hancock: Takin' Off
Herbie Hancock, piano; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Butch Warren, double bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
Blue Note Records 84109 (LP), 1962, 2019. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Don Was, Cem Kurosman, reissue prods.; Kevin Gray, reissue eng. AAA. TT: 39:01
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

From 1962 until now, and counting all formats except downloads, there have been no fewer than 62 releases of Herbie Hancock's debut album, Takin' Off—more than any of his other albums except Maiden Voyage (1965) and Head Hunters (1973). This issue's Recording of the Month comes from an ambitious project referred to by Blue Note Records as the Blue Note 80 Vinyl Reissue Series, which is distinct from the company's Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series, described in Sasha Matson's interview with company President Don Was in the May 2019 Stereophile.

Jim Austin  |  May 16, 2019  |  0 comments
Etienne Charles: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1
Etienne Charles, trumpet, percussion; Brian Hogans, Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; David Sánchez, tenor saxophone; Sullivan Fortner, James Francies, piano, Fender Rhodes; Alex Wintz, guitar; Luques Curtis, Russell Hall, Ben Williams, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; D'Achee, congas. With: Claxton Bay Tamboo Bamboo, Laventille Rhythm Section, other percussionists.
Culture Shock EC007 (2 LPs). 2019. Etienne Charles, prod.; Glenn Brown, Christian Burkett, David Darlington, Mark Wilder, engs. DDA. TT: 67:20
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Etienne Charles, the Trinidadian trumpeter, percussionist, and Guggenheim fellow, has a knack for album concepts. His 2013 album, Creole Soul, starts with an incantation from an actual Voodoo priest and goes on to cover Creole-influenced tunes from Bob Marley and the Mighty Sparrow. Thelonious Monk is also in the mix, with his "Green Chimneys," which features a calypso melody Charles speculates Monk first heard in New York's San Juan Hill, a Caribbean neighborhood where Monk lived for a while.

Thomas Conrad  |  Apr 18, 2019  |  2 comments
Francesco Diodati Yellow Squeeds: Never the Same
Francesco Diodati, electric & acoustic guitar, gongs; Francesco Lento, trumpet; Glauco Benedetti, tuba, valve trombone, flute; Enrico Zanisi, piano, Fender Rhodes, synths; Enrico Morello, drums, gongs
Auand AU9080 (CD). 2019. Francesco Diodati, Marco Valente, prods.; Stefano Del Vecchio, Roberto Lioli, engs. DDD. TT: 44:24
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Guitarist Francesco Diodati is one of the freshest voices to enter jazz in the new millennium. If this news comes as a surprise, you probably live in the US. A disproportionate amount of the innovation and energy within America's only indigenous art form now comes out of Europe. Most of the American jazz community has not gotten the memo.

Jon Iverson  |  Mar 12, 2019  |  3 comments
David Crosby: Here If You Listen
BMG 538431461 (LP), 538429532 (CD), none (FLAC 24/48). 2018. David Crosby, Michael League, prods.; Fab Dupont, prod., eng., mix; Josh Welshman, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering. ADD/DDD. TT: 45:08
Performance ****
Sonics *****

In 1967, the year the Byrds would fire him, David Crosby sits in a room—a small space, from the sound of it—with a cheap microphone and a recorder of dubious merit. He's improvising some jazzy, open-tuned acoustic guitar strumming, adding nonlexical vocables on top. He then files away the resulting tape—clearly ahead of its time and of no use to his bandmates—for 50 years.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 05, 2019  |  2 comments
Vivaldi: Arias
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Matheus Ensemble
Decca 002932502 (24/96 download, CD). 2018. Arend Prohmann, prod., ed.; Philip Siney, eng.; Claudio Becker-Foss, asst. eng. DDD. TT: 58:27
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Stereophile occasionally awards a Joint Recording of the Month, and Cecilia Bartoli's second recording of Vivaldi arias deserves no less.

Though we don't know over how long a period Bartoli recorded this album's 10 tracks, she finished the project with Jean-Christophe Spinosi's Ensemble Matheus, a baroque group, in 2018, when she turned 52. I defy you to hear any trace of age in her voice. The singing is limpid and seamless, with rapid, wide-spanning coloratura runs flawlessly dispensed, and the longest of long-breathed lines produced with little to no apparent effort.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 19, 2019  |  1 comments
Hespèrion XXI & Jordi Savall: Ibn Battuta: The Traveler of Islam 1304–1377
Music of Afghanistan, Bagdad, China, Granada, India, Mali, Morocco, more
Alia Vox AVSA9930 (24/88.2, 2 SACDs). 2018. S.L. Sonjade, prod.; Harry Charlier, Manuel Mohino, engs. DDD. TT: 2:27:04
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Sixty years after Italian explorer and merchant Marco Polo chronicled his journey to Asia, Tangier-born Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta (b. 1304, d. 1368–1377) spent close to 30 remarkable years traveling to what were then the four corners of the earth. Following the words of Muhammad, Prophet of Islam, to whom is attributed the dictate "Seek knowledge even unto China," Ibn Battuta was only 21 when his desire for knowledge and learning propelled him on a quest far longer and wider-ranging than Polo's.

Sasha Matson  |  Jan 15, 2019  |  30 comments
The Beatles: The Beatles—50th Anniversary Edition
Apple B0028831-01 (2 LPs). 1968/2018. George Martin, orig. prod.; Geoff Emerick, orig. eng.; Giles Martin, reissue prod., remix; Sam Okell, reissue eng., remix; Miles Showell, mastering. ADA. TT: 93:27
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The Beatles, aka the "White Album," was first released on November 22, 1968. On November 9, 2018, in honor of that event, Apple Corps Limited issued the new 50th Anniversary Edition. My comments here refer to listening to the two-LP edition of the newly remixed The Beatles, pressed for Apple by Quality Record Pressings. Also included in three other varying editions are 27 of what are now known as the Esher Demos, 50 out-takes and alternate takes, and a 5.1-channel hi-rez surround mix on BD.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jan 08, 2019  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1962  |  2 comments
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch, conductor
RCA Victor LSC-2608 (LP). TT: 48:40

It is easy to forget that the hi-fi movements—the "March to the Scaffold" and the "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath"—comprise barely a third of the music in the Symphonie fantastique, yet when we listen to most of the available versions of this, we can understand why the first three movements are usually passed up by the record listener. Two are slow and brooding, one is a wispy sort of waltz, and all three require a certain combination of flowing gentleness and grotesquerie that few orchestras and fewer conductors can carry off. It is in these first three movements where most readings of Berlioz' best-known work fall flat. Either they are too sweetly pastoral or too episodic and choppy, or they degenerate into unreliered dullness.

Richard Lehnert  |  Jan 03, 2019  |  2 comments
Bruckner: String Quintet (arr. for Large Orchestra), Overture in g
Gerd Schaller, arr., cond.; Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Profil PH16036 (CD). 2018. Milan Puklický, prod.; Jan Lzicar, eng. DDD. TT: 57:12
Performance ***
Sonics ****

Bruckner & Mahler: String Quintet (arr. for Chamber Orchestra) & Symphony 10: Adagio
Peter Stangel, arr., cond.; Pocket Philharmonic Orchestra
Edition Taschenphilharmonie/Sony ETP008 (CD). 2017. Sebastian Riederer von Paar, prod., eng., ed. DDD. TT: 59:12
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Bruckner's only mature chamber work, the String Quintet in F, has long sounded to many less like chamber music than like a Bruckner symphony squeezed into far smaller form. It's long, follows Bruckner's version of classical symphonic form, and is as meticulously composed and as contrapuntally intricate as his far larger-scaled symphonies. Like many of those, it has an alternate movement, an Intermezzo. In tenderness and poignancy, the Quintet's warm Adagio is close enough in depth and quality to its counterparts in Bruckner's symphonies 00 through 5 that it now exists in at least 11 arrangements (none by Bruckner) for string orchestra; three of those, the most popular being Hans Stadlmeier's, include the Quintet's three other movements.

James W. Keeler  |  Dec 31, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1962  |  8 comments
Britten: Noye's Fludde
Owen Brannigan, Sheila Rex, Trevor Anthony, Children's Chorus, and East Suffolk Children's Orchestra, Members of the English Chamber Orchestra, Norman Del Mar, conductor
London OS-25331 (LP). Colin Graham, prod. Recording date, 1961-07-03. Recording venue, Orford Church, Suffolk. TT: 48:00

This musical setting of the Chester miracle play about Noah, his ark, and the problems attendant thereof, if one of the most movingly beautiful recorded works I have ever heard. Its simplicity and sincerity are a stinging rebuke to those contemporary composers who have forgotten that music is basically an expression of emotion, without which its appeal can be only to the logic-oriented "mind" of a computing machine.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Dec 31, 2018  |  First Published: Mar 01, 1963  |  1 comments
Mahler: Symphony No.1 in D ("The Titan")
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, conductor
Columbia MS-6394 (LP). John McClure, prod. TT: 52:15

This is one of those rare combinations of a superb recording and a stunning performance. As far as I'm concerned, it is the best Mahler First that Bruno Walter committed to discs during his lifetime, including the last one that he made with the New York Philharmonic. And the fact that this recording is far superior to that accorded Walter when he conducted the New York Philharmonic does not detract one bit from my feeling about this new release.

James W. Keeler  |  Dec 24, 2018  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1963  |  1 comments
Music for Strings
Couperin: Concert Pieces for Cello and Orchestra; Mozart: Divertimento in D, K.136; Corelli: Concerto Grosso No.4, Op.6; Britten: A Simple Symphony
Solisti de Zagreb, Antonio Janigro, cello and director
RCA Victor LSC 2653 (2 LPs). Richard Mohr, prod., Lewis W. Layton, eng, TT: 47:56

From the standpoint of content and musicianship this is a superb collection of delightful music performed with the consummate authority and artistry for which Mr. Janigro and I Solisti de Zagreb are justly famous. The recording, too, while by no means perfect, is at least pre-Dynagroove, which as far as I'm concerned is now a compliment to any RCA Victor release.

James W. Keeler  |  Dec 24, 2018  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1963  |  2 comments
Nielsen: Symphony No.5, Op.50
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, conductor
Columbia MS-6414 (LP). John McClure, prod. TT: 33:10

This is surely one of the most exciting works written in the twentieth century. and if there is going to be an upsurge of interest in the works of this great Danish composer as a result of this recording, then Mr. Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic will have rendered music lovers an invaluable service.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 18, 2018  |  0 comments
Joyce DiDonato: Into the Fire
Works by Heggie, Strauss, Debussy, Gruber, Lekeu
Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Brentano String Quartet
Erato 573802 (24/96, CD). 2018. Jeremy Hayes, prod.; Steve Portnoi, balance, mastering. DDD. TT: 77:38
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

On the 2017 Winter Solstice, the astounding Joyce DiDonato—the coloratura mezzo-soprano from Kansas who zips through impossible runs of Rossinian roulades faster than anyone can shuck corn—took a break from opera to present a song recital in London's famed Wigmore Hall. With Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's moving song cycle Into the Fire as its centerpiece, this live recording of DiDonato with the Brentano String Quartet confirms that she is a song interpreter of rare distinction.

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