Music in the Round #31 Recordings In The Round

Sidebar 2: Recordings In The Round

COWBOY JUNKIES: Trinity Revisited
Plus: A Film by Pierre & Francois Lamoureux
With: Ryan Adams, Jeff Bird, Vic Chesnutt, Natalie Merchant Rounder Zoe 01143-1121-2 (DVD, CD)

The Cowboy Junkies' second album, The Trinity Session (CD, RCA 8568-2-R), has become an iconic release for many of us. On the one hand, it is a warm and moving dozen songs, half covers, half originals, offered in spare but satisfying arrangements. On the other, it is a spectacular demonstration of what intimate communication can be achieved with a simple microphone arrangement (in this case, a single Calrec Ambisonic mike) in an acoustically supportive and satisfying venue. This recording holds a special place in the collections of many of us.

For this new recording, the original Junkies reassembled, along with some notable guests, at the original recording venue, Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity, to re-experience and celebrate the 20th anniversary of that event—though not to repeat it, even though the same 12 songs are performed in the same order as on The Trinity Session. Like the original recording, Trinity Revisited derives from a single session dictated by the need to fit all setup, sound checks, and performances around the church's primary activities. Thus, this recording enjoys many of the original's ad hoc liberties, which can be experienced in some of the preparations documented in the "Making of" video on the accompanying DVD.

At first, I was bothered by the differences from the original recording; I will never prefer Natalie Merchant's somewhat nasal voice to Margo Timmins' frail directness, nor have I acquired a taste for Vic Chesnutt. I did immediately take to the contributions of Ryan Adams, both in performance and in the preparations. With repeated listening, it became possible to hold memory at arm's length and appreciate this new and different session on its own terms. There's a bit less world-weariness in the voices, and the beat is less slack. Overall, the arrangements, though similar to those used in the original, are more conventional. Nonetheless, I found Trinity Revisited engrossing and addictive.

Sonically, it's new. Multiple microphones provide greater clarity and more individuation of the performers, aided greatly by the video, and the bass is better defined. The multichannel soundstage (Dolby 5.1) is circular and enveloping, but the ambience is less pervasive than on the original, particularly if one uses an Ambisonic decoder with the latter. Listening to Trinity Revisited, I'm very aware of every performer; listening to The Trinity Session, I'm more aware of my own perspective. Trinity Revisited is, indeed, the best title for this recording. It's like meeting an old friend after a long interval: the differences are both appreciated and lamented.

Fire Burning in the Snow: Baroque Music from Latin America 3
Jeffrey Skidmore, Ex Cathedra Consort and Baroque Ensemble
Hyperion SACDA67600 (SACD)

This lovely disc is filled with charming, simple music and delightful sounds. The collection begins with, is interspersed with, and concludes with drum-paced processionals from the anonymous verses of Hanacpachap cussisuinin. In between are lots of melodious and foot-tap–inducing songs for voices accompanied by colorful instrumental forces. Some pieces are liturgical, some private and personal. Hyperion's surround does not envelop so much as transport, and the clarity of the voices and instruments is very satisfying.

HAYDN: String Quartets Op.20 No.3, Op.74 No.1, Op.76 No.1
Amsterdam String Quartet
Channel Classics CCS SA 25907 (SACD)

From the first notes of this disc, one hears a sound different from most other string quartets—the Amsterdam Quartet uses historical instruments, original or re-created, that wrap Haydn in rich, burnished tones. The upper strings are bit thin-sounding, but the players balance them well and take every advantage of Haydn's dynamic range and plasticity of tempo. With Channel's careful balancing, one can hear the individual voice and character of each of these 16 strings, and, despite the evidently warm ambience of the Doopsgezinde Kerk of Deventer, a church, they have great immediacy and presence. An important addition to the library.—Kalman Rubinson