Recording of January 1979: The Art of Fuguing

Bach-Malloch: The Art of Fuguing
The Sheffield Ensemble and California Boy's Choir, Lukas Foss, cond., recorded live at First Presbyterian Church, Hollywood.
Town Hall Records S-20 & S-21 (each 2 LPs, 1979), Sheffield Lab 10047-2-G (CD, 1995). Lincoln Mayorga, prod., Ron Hitchcock, eng., Lincoln Mayorga Doug Sax, CD mastering eng. AAA (LP), AAD (CD).

These 2-disc albums are of unusual interest for several reasons. First, although both are of exactly the same program material, there were recorded with completely different microphone techniques. One was done with the usual (for commercial recordings) multi-microphone set-up and mixdown (S-20). The other (S-21) was done with a single stereo mike—the technique preferred by most audio perfectionists. [This is the version on the 1995 CD reissue—Ed.]

Second, they are unusual in that they represent a departure from producer Lincoln Mayorga's recent efforts. Mayorga and the Mastering Labs' Doug Sax pioneered direct-to-disc cutting of LPs, and have produced only D-to-Ds since then. These latest from that collaboration were mastered on tape, which is why they the discs are released on the Town hall label rather than on Sheffield Lab. Nonetheless, the sound is so good, it makes one wonder if D-to-D is really worth the effort.

Third, the program. William Malloch has arranged Bach's monumental organ work for a full but small orchestra (without trumpets or trombones) replete with percussion, piano, and celeste. The "arrangement" is sprightly and laced with humorous bits (including fleeting fragments from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and "The Flight of Bumblebee"), and this performance under Lucas Foss's direction is spirited and —for me, at least—a sheer delight. Bach purists, on the other hand, can be absolutely guaranteed to have an apoplectic fit on the spot.


So, which version of this recording should you buy—assuming that you feel that you can stomach the idea of someone having fun with Great Music? Well, that depends. If you have a good reproducing system (and what Stereophile reader doesn't?), the single-miked version on set S-21 will best do it justice. By comparison, I found the multi-miked S-20 to sound raw and dry, but I have no illusions about what the general record-buying public prefer.

On the other hand, if you are still wondering what all this single-mike-versus-multi-mike discussion is about anyway, you can answer the question for yourself once and for all by buying both of these sets and comparing them. You might even play parts of both for some of your friends who collect records but profess to have no interest in matters technical. Their preference may surprise you a little bit, too.

At least one these albums, though, deserves a place on any broad-minded collector's shelf. Set S-21 has all the qualifications for a Top-of-the-Pile listing: It is both musically and sonically first-rate.—Margaret Graham (footnote 1)

Footnote 1: Margaret Graham was the non-de-plume of J. Gordon Holt's wife, Polly.—Ed.

dalethorn's picture

I found the CD used at Amazon for $35 (Sheffield, single-mic) -- new price was $800. The Amazon user reviews were very positive and indicated the reviewers were knowledgable - a good confirmation.