1991 Records To Die For Page 3

Arnis Balgalvis
I feel that only five recordings are not enough to give the reader a fair shot at the reviewer's choices. It would have been better to list more selections, say ten, and cut the comments in half. Just in case, here are my other five recommendations: The Power of the Orchestra, Chesky LP RC30; Ahmad Jamal's Rossiter Road, Atlantic 7 81645-2 (CD); Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller, RR-33DCD (CD); Trio, by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris, Warner Bros. 9 25491-2 (CD); and John Pizzarelli's My Blue Heaven, Chesky JD38 (CD).
Concord Picante CCD 4290 (LP). Ron Davis, eng.; Carl E. Jefferson, prod. AAA. TT: 38:93

Here's a CD I seek out whenever I want to get a quick bearing on the system sonically. The very demanding dynamics, excellent spectral balance, great inner detailing, and a setting ever so natural, are all balanced beautifully. This is one of the best CDs I have ever heard.

And don't be fooled by the title. This seemingly sedate CD is musically seductive. While an accordion never makes an appearance, Messrs. Almeida and Byrd deliver a most remarkable guitar recital and manage to draw the listener into tango after tango. For me the end always comes too soon. Tango is available on LP, but I haven't auditioned it.

CORELLI: Concerti Grossi, Op.6 Nos.1-6
Nicholas McGegan, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi HMU 7014 (LP), HMU 907014 (CD). Robina G. Young, prod.; Peter McGrath, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 60:02

HM deserves recognition for their consistently good recordings whenever Robina Young and Peter McGrath are involved. Being very certain that Bob Harley will praise Handel's Water Music, I decided to put up this beauty for my HM choice. If the stage was alive with the sound of music in capturing the Handel work, this time around Peter McGrath goes one better. The stage lights up with a most delightful array of sonic artifacts. The soundspace is very vast and very busy.

The sounds reaching your ears are sure to please. The instruments have been captured having a most vivid time with the music. Pinpoint placements, spontaneous attacks, and exquisite decays make for a larger-than-life presentation, especially so on LP. It's smooth and sumptuous, yet poignant and commanding. (XIII-6)

DEBUSSY: Sonata for Violin and Piano
BARTÓK: Rumanian Folk Dances
BRAHMS: Sonata No.1 in G, Op.78
SATOH:Birds in Warped Time II

Julie Steinberg, piano; David Abel, violin
Wilson Audiophile W-8722 (LP), WCD-8722 (CD). David A. Wilson, Sheryl Lee Wilson, prods; David A. Wilson, eng. AAA/AAD. TT: 58:29

Ever since I observed Dave Wilson use this recording to get a feel for the tonal balance of his WAMMs, I have held this CD in high regard. I feel it is one of the most realistic recordings of the violin in existence. The difficult-to-capture woody resonance of the violin's body is wonderfully balanced with the vibrant richness of the string tone. Brightness is avoided, and at the same time details and transients are in ample evidence. While this is not a tour de force for the piano, the power of this instrument nevertheless comes across unmistakably. Thanks, Dave!
STAN KENTON and His Orchestra: Birthday in Britain
Creative World 1065 (LP), GNP Crescendo STD-1065 (CD). Wally Heider, eng.; Stan Kenton, Dick Shearer, Wally Heider, prods. AAA/AAD. TT: 51:28

My initial inclination was to submit the Harry James recordings on Sheffield, but the direct-to-discs may be too difficult to come by. The CDs are good, but pale when compared to the LPs.

I therefore decided to include this selection because the performance is far more spontaneous and dynamic, and it is finally available on CD. Play it again, Stan! I can't think of a better way to get the feel of what this type of music is all about.

This is big-band virtuosity personified. Driving rhythms, thrilling brass choirs, and adorable solos combine for an inspirational performance. It sure helps to be in front of a live audience.

The LP has more apparent air and better depth, but the CD is every bit as clean and smooth. It wins by being more coherent and effortless. You might be interested to know that a Nagra tape machine was used to create this wonderful recording.

RONN McFARLANE: The Scottish Lute
Ronn McFarlane, lute and mandora
Dorian DOR-90129 (CD only). Douglas Brown, Ronn McFarlane, prods.; Douglas Brown, eng. DDD. TT: 69:46

Talk about palpable presence! Seldom is heard a discouraging note on this naturally focused, airy, and marvelously detailed recording. This is one of those rarities---and on CD, no less---that serves as a reminder that "real" is not a pipe dream.

Don't consider the prospect of listening to 69 minutes of lute music a chore. Ronn won me over very quickly, and presented the music in a manner involving enough that I found myself wanting still more. The music is soothing and fascinating at the same time. One of the best recordings to come along for quite some time.

Les Berkley

Reprise MS 2038 (LP). Henry Lewy, eng. AAA. TT: 36:14

When RL first told me about the "Recommended Recordings" project, I knew there was going to be a Joni Mitchell album among my choices. The only problem was: which one? Most audiophiles like either Court and Spark or Wild Things Run Fast; both of these latter have places in Harry Pearson's List. But for me, Blue represents a simpler and more unvarnishedly real kind of music-making. Write it off to my folkie sensibilities if you will, but I'll bet you that ten years from now, this is still on my Best list.

Incidentally, my fairly recent pressing, mastered by a house I cannot identify, sounds as good as the original issue.

STAN ROGERS: Between the Breaks...Live
Fogarty's Cove FCM 002 (LP). Bill Garrett, prod.; Steve Vaughan, eng. AAA.

You've probably never heard Stan Rogers, and I don't have space here to convince you that he was the best folksinger to come out of Canada since the Real Gordon Lightfoot (d.1970). Just take it on faith---Stan was the real thing, and this is about the best live folk album you'll ever hear. The recording quality will remind you of the famous Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie, which is about the highest praise I can muster. Stan's guitars (six- and twelve-string) were custom-made for him by luthier Grit Laskin; they sound like no others in the world. On a good system (hint: tubes) you'll be able to hear that unique quality.
VARIOUS: Italian Violin Music, 1600-1750
Chiara Banchini, baroque violin; Gerhart Darmstadt, baroque cello; Alfred Gross, harpsichord
Edition Open Window OW 002 (LP only). Dusan Klimo, prod.; Wilfried Zahn, eng. AAA.

I have already raved about this record in these pages (Vol.11 No.7). The spate of audiophile-oriented recordings which has crossed my desk since then has not changed my opinion. This remains one of the finest collaborations between performers and engineers I have heard; it is a genuine labor of love. Chiara Banchini has (deservedly) moved on to bigger labels, but this may stand as her most compelling performance. It may also contain the best cello sound on record. (XI-7)
VARIOUS: La Mantovana
Italian Music of the Late Renaissance (Footnote 7)
The London Early Music Group, James Tyler, dir.
Nonesuch H-71392 (LP). Charles Gerhardt, prod.; Kenneth Wilkinson, eng. AAA.

Yes, you have read the headnote correctly. This is an early-music record produced by no less than Gerhardt/Wilkinson. In view of this, my comments on sound quality may be superfluous, but I will remark anyway that this LP has the most accurate instrumental timbre of any Renaissance recording I have ever heard. The London Early Music Group plays brilliantly on a bewildering variety of instruments, all of whose essential textures are preserved intact. Of all my choices for "Recommended Recordings," this is the one I most hope you will seek out.
VARIOUS: Music for a Viol
Wieland Kuijken, viola de gamba; Sigiswald Kuijken, gamba, violin; Robert Kohnen, harpsichord
Accent ACC 68014D (CD only). AAD? TT: 49:04

So I'm at Nathan Muchnik's record department in downtown Philadelphia and the lovely lady puts this CD in the Sony. "Ecod!" I exclaim. "That's digital?" "Of course," replies the fascinating-but-digiphilic Miriam (herself a Baroque cellist). She sells me the disc, but declines my invitation to dinner. I am perhaps a little less upset when I hear this recording on my own system: glorious playing by the Kuijkens, the best string tone yet from a CD, and superlative harpsichord sound. This was the CD that convinced me that the digital future might be OK after all. But alas, Miriam was lost forever...(X-8)

Footnote 7: The jacket says "Early Baroque," but don't go believing everything you read.

Martin Colloms

BRITTEN: Noye's Fludde
Norman Del Mar, English Opera Group Orchestra
Argo ZRG 2339 (LP only). Colin Graham, prod. AAA.

Dating from Argo's golden years, this performance elicits an inspiring degree of spontaneity, which makes it an enduring pleasure. Recorded with the Suffolk Children's Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Norman Del Mar at the Maltings, Snape, there is a magical atmosphere of amateur music making at its very best, in a natural acoustic.

Technically, the sound of Snape is captured marvelously; one has no difficulty imagining the whole dimension of the place, clear to the back wall. Remarkably, the stereo focus and localization are most convincing, and better and better systems have consistently shown that there is more and more to be wrung from this recording.

The sound is natural and airy, with clarity maintained even over complex sections.

Warner 25490-1 (LP), -2 (CD). Peter Doell, Eric Calvic, Erik Zobler, engs.; Tommy Li Puma, Marcus Miller, George Duke, prods. AAA/AAD. TT: 42:23

I'm not qualified to say much about Miles's music-making, except that this work is readily accessible, particularly to rock fans. It shows a superb sense of rhythm and powerful drive, qualities which may be sufficient to impress when heard on an average system, but are only felt in their full force on an exceptional one.

Technically, this is a rock studio production with attendant processing "hardness" and artificialities. Yet the idiom is exploited for Miles's own ends, and thus succeeds.

This disc is fast and dynamic, with punchy transients, excellent focus, and a crisp, deep bass. Fragile or edgy replay systems are instantly exposed by this demanding recording.

DAVE GRUSIN: Discovered Again
Sheffield Lab ST-500 (LP), CD-5 (CD). Bill Schnee, eng.; Lincoln Mayorga, Doug Sax, prods. Direct-to-disc LP, now tape-transfer CD. AAA/AAD. TT: 32:19

Dare I call this popular music? This record has remained a reference in its class on the grounds of music-making and performance. All the players are first-rate and work effortlessly together, making it all sound so easy.

Technically this direct-to-disc recording has survived the passage of time, justifying the exceptional effort which was put into its production technology. It is so helpful to have a record featuring a small band with percussion which is so well-balanced and -recorded.

There is no exaggeration here---the instrument sounds are as remote from the canned noises emanating from modern synthesizers as you could wish for. Low distortion, high definition, sweetness, and good stereo staging are the watchwords here.

RACHMANINOFF: Isle of the dead, Symphonic Dances
Vladimir Ashkenazy, Concertgebouw Orchestra
London/Decca 410 124-2 (CD only). Colin Moorfoot, John Dunkerley, engs.; Andrew Cornall, prod. DDD. TT: 54:46

Ashkenazy does wonderful things with Rachmaninoff, and this performance of the Symphonic Dances has astonishing impact. Somehow the full potential dynamic range of the CD medium is exploited with electrifying climaxes. The Concertgebouw orchestra plays very well in their superb home venue.

Technically, this is a big orchestra giving a big performance presented on a suitably massive scale. The hall acoustic is captured well, and the soundstage is vast yet controlled.

Front rows of the orchestra are rather brilliant in the Decca mold, amply balanced by the excellent clarity and fine perspectives heard beyond the violin desks---a showpiece for bandwidth and dynamics.

Works by Griffes, Reinecke, Prokofiev, Schumann
Gary Woodward, flute; Brooks Smith, piano
Stereophile STPH001-1 (LP), -2 (CD*). Kavi Alexander, eng.; John Atkinson, Richard Lehnert, prods. AAD. TTs: 52:46, 63:46*

Quality such as this is rarely available on CD. From the start, there is an atmosphere of live music-making, of great commitment and palpable drive. Many audiophile records sound rather tame and safe, but Poem is exciting and involving. There are real musical performances here which withstand repeated listening. What's more, I liked all the pieces, a rare find indeed!

Technically, the CD shows a finely judged balance for the two instruments, with a most natural sense of space and perspective. The flute's tonal quality is exquisite, very true to life. The sound is pure, with negligible hardness, audible distortion, or false edge. While the nominal instrumental frequency range is not that wide, this recording turns out to be adept at finding system faults in the bass, mid, and treble when so required. In my system, it shows that vital relationship with real life. (XIII-5)