A Classical Bonanza at the 2016 Grammys

The musical and technical excellence of the 2016 Grammy Award winners makes this a great year for audiophiles. Not only are 28 of the albums / compositions that won awards in multiple categories available for download from HDTracks, virtually all in hi-rez (from 44.1/24 to 192/24), but just as many if not more are available for streaming and download in hi-rez and/or full CD quality from both ClassicsOnlineHD and Tidal.

Accepting the award for the Reference Fresh! Paulus CD were (from right–left): producer Peter Rutenberg, Dorothy Dyer Vanek, who commissioned the work and funded the project, Eric Holtan of True Concord Voices & Orchestra, and his wife Eloisa Holtan. (Photo: Jan Mancuso)

Take, for example, the music that received the Grammy for "Best Contemporary Classical Composition," the late Stephen Paulus' (1949–2014) six-movement "Prayers & Remembrances." Composed to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 bombings, the work is part of Fresh! by Reference Recordings' all-Paulus album, Paulus: Far in the Heavens. Performed by Eric Holtan's True Concord Voices & Orchestra, it also can be streamed in full-CD quality on ClassicsOnline HD. The recording can be considered definitive, given that Paulus supervised the recording sessions just six weeks before he suffered the major stroke that led to his death.

Equally available for hi-rez streaming and download, as well as purchase in disc form, is the 2016 Grammy winner of "Best Classical Compendium," Naxos's Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto, performed by Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony. Clearly the members of the Recording Academy wished to honor one of America's great choral composers.

Of other classical entries that won awards, both the "Best Orchestral Performance," Deutsche Grammophon's Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow—Symphony No. 10 from Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and "Best Choral Performance," Chandos' Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil from Charles Bruffy and the combined Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales, can be found on HDTracks and, in the case of the former, Tidal. "Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance," Cedille Records' Filament from Eighth Blackbird, can be downloaded in hi-rez directly from the label's website. And "Best Classical Instrumental Solo," violinist Augustin Hadelich's performance of Dutilleux's Violin Concerto, "L'Arbre Des Songes," which can be found on Seattle Symphony Media's second Dutilleux disc, Dutilleux: Métaboles; L'Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No.2, 'Le Double,' performed by Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony, can be both streamed and downloaded in hi-rez from Classics Online HD.

The Grammys also honored two engineers well known by the audiophile community. Winner of "Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical," Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color, once again points the spotlight on fabled mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig. And "Best Engineered Album, Classical," George Manahan and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra's recording of Laura Karpman and Langston Hughes' Ask Your Mama, was recorded by a team headed by Grammy and Skywalker Sound luminary, Leslie Ann Jones.

Among the other goodies are, for "Best Historical Album," Stereophile "Recording of the Month, January 2015," Bob Dylan and the Band's The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11. Then there's "Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album," Stereophile "Recording of the Month, September 2015," the Maria Schneider Orchestra's The Thompson Fields, and "Best Jazz Vocal Album," Cécille McLorin Salvant's For One to Love, which is available in various resolutions via Cookie Marenco's Downloads Now!. Finally, you'll find a passel of excellent recordings from "Producer of the Year, Classical," the legendary Judith Sherman.

More glorious, Grammy Award-winning music is available to purchase, download and stream than ever before. And that includes a host of nominees that, for reasons more political than musical, didn't walk away with Grammys this year.

cookiemarenco's picture

And congratulations to all the nominees and non-nominees who continue to support better quality sound. Thank you, Mack Avenue for sharing "For One to Love" with us! http://mackavenue.downloadsnow.net/one-love

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Please see my comment here:

fetuso's picture

I'll be perfectly honest and admit I don't own any of the recordings mentioned in this post, but I just wanted to say something about hi res in general. Just because something is available in high res doesn't mean it was a good recording. The Alabama shakes album that Ludwig won the award for has a horrendous DR value of 5. The vinyl is double that value, so what are we to believe was the artist's intention? Overly loud digital is the reason I bought a TT and stared listening to vinyl for the sake of my ears. We shouldn't be honoring anyone who is part of this problem.

kursten's picture

I've read interviews with Ludwig where he addresses artists' loudness concerns. Ludwig is very anti-compression, but his artists want to make an impression on radio and spotify listeners, which (sadly) requires the use of DRC. I wouldn't blame Ludwig for the compression, but would praise him for his expert mastering of Sound & Color, as well as his many other beautifully mastered albums.

fetuso's picture

I don't know about Spotify, but I know radio stations have their own compressors. As far as not blaming Ludwig, well then I can't credit him too much either. If the artist is to blame for excessive compression, then the artist should get the credit for the good sound. I don't mean to single out Ludwig, I know he's an excellent engineer. This is an industry wide problem. I listen to both cd's and records, but I get annoyed when I look up an album and find the cd is twice as compressed as the lp. What I would like to see happen is the creation of a separate streaming master and use the same less compressed master for the cd and lp.

crenca's picture

I listened to the "Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow—Symphony No. 10" on Tidal and subsequently purchased it at 96/24. I am now listening to the "Paulus: Far in the Heavens" and while I probably won't purchase it as it is not exactly my cup of tea, the quality of the recording is apparent. While I have my rock favorites it is not a regular thing, and let's admit it is a "more is always better" genre. More sound, more distortion, more loudness, more more more. Rock as everyone knows "goes to 11".

I suppose what I am saying is that I am not surprised that "the loudness war" exists and while it has effected some Jazz and Classical recordings (what I mostly listen to) it is far easier to find well recorded music in these genres than rock/pop/dance/etc.

I agree, we should not be "honoring" loudness war but in these genres where it is "part of the sound" there probably is no way to honor anyone as it is part of the paradigm...

fetuso's picture

As far as I know the loudness war is a result of the iPod culture and cheap ear buds. It has nothing to do with making rock music sound louder. Zeppelin, the stones, the who, Hendrix; none of them needed any help sounding loud. Records are being recorded and produced to accommodate the vast majority of people who don't care about sound quality. I was just surprised to read a post on Stereophile claiming this was a great year for audiophiles simply because of a large inventory of high res material. The sample rate in and of itself doesn't speak to the quality of the recording. The material mentioned may be great recordings, but if so its not due to the sample rate.

Anon2's picture

There are many excellent recordings of Rachmaninov's Vespers/All Night Vigil. In fact, having purchased over half a dozen recordings of this work, based on critical reviews, I have learned that nearly all of the commercially available recordings of this work get high reviews.

It was hard for me to think that the excellent line-up of recordings could find a new recording that would surpass what is already available. The Grammy-winning Charles Bruffy KC Chorale/Phoenix Chorale is the new benchmark for this perhaps greatest composition of Sergei Rachmaninov.

Even if you have recordings of the Vespers such as the Robert Shaw/Telarc, Naxos, Ondine, King's College-EMI, Hyperion, the Philips recording with Olga Borodina renderings of this spell-binding work, you will not regret buying another recording made by this duo of choruses. The Chandos recording matches the superb artistry of the performers. This is a must-have disc, and a desert-island issue for the collector.