Records to Die For 2019 Page 3

Robert Deutsch


Jonathan Antoine: Tenore
Jonathan Antoine, tenor; Latvian National Orchestra, London Session Singers, Julian Reynolds
Portrait 88843085372 (CD). 2014. Anna Berry, prod.; Neil Hutchinson, Andris Uze, Gary Thomas, engs. DDD. TT: 45:21

Jonathan Antoine first came to prominence in 2012 as one-half of the duo Jonathan and Charlotte, on the British TV show Got Talent—which some opera pundits might consider automatic disqualification for serious consideration as an opera singer. If so, in my opinion, the pundits would be wrong. Tenore, Antoine's first solo recording, made when he was just 19, reveals a voice of uncommonly beautiful timbre, on the lyrical rather than the dramatic side, but with apparently substantial power and an easy high C. The selections are a mixed bag: some opera arias, Neapolitan and other Italian pop songs, and tenor show-off pieces, including "Granada." He's never less than credible in these various styles, and his performance of Donizetti's "Una furtiva lagrima" bears comparison with some big names, including Pavarotti.


Audra McDonald: Sing Happy
Andy Einhorn, New York Philharmonic
Decca Gold B0028495 02 (CD). 2018. Mark Tavis, prod.; Lawrence Rock, eng. DDD. TT: 61:29

Winner of six Tony Awards, with a repertoire that encompasses opera, musical theater, and jazz, Audra McDonald is a phenomenon. Sing Happy, a live—and lively—recording with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Andy Einhorn, catches McDonald at the peak of her formidable powers. The songs are from musical theater: some well known ("Summertime"), others a bit obscure ("Chain of Love"), but with evident thought given to their selection and sequencing. It's difficult to pick favorites, but mine would have to include "I Am What I Am," "She Loves Me (Vanilla Ice Cream)," "Make Someone Happy," and a definitive performance of "Climb Every Mountain." She sings everything pretty much as written, with no "jazzy" embellishments, trusting the music and lyrics to speak for themselves. It works beautifully.

Art Dudley


Fotheringay: Fotheringay
Island ILPS 9125 (LP). 1970. Joe Boyd, prod.; Jerry Boys, Tod Lloyd, engs. AAA. TT: 38:32

Sandy Denny: The North Star Grassman and the Ravens
Island ILPS 9165 (LP). 1971. Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, prods.; John Wood, prod., eng. AAA. TT: 39:12

My introduction to the British band Fairport Convention came in 1971, with their album "Babbacombe Lee"—which, like so many other records, I bought because its cover art appealed to me. That turned out to be the band's last great studio release, and it wasn't until the 21st century that I got around to sampling Fairport's pre-1970s albums, three of which were made with Sandy Denny as lead singer. Once I heard that voice—a dense, understated contralto blending sureness of pitch and perfect control with seemingly limitless character and emotional conviction—I was in love. Friend and fellow Brit-folk fan Reinhard Goerner steered me toward Denny's first two post-Fairport recordings. Fotheringay (1970)—actually the debut album by the short-lived band of that name—is the first real showcase for Denny's emerging talents as a songwriter; her "The Pond and the Stream," "The Sea," and the piano-driven "Nothing More" are the outstanding tracks, the album's only real clunker being a peculiar misreading of Bob Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing." (Vol.28 No.2)


Stronger still is Denny's first solo LP—forget that it featured every member of Fotheringay, plus ex-Fairporter Richard Thompson—the moodier, more pensive The North Star Grassman and the Ravens. Here, Denny's reliance on piano as her instrument of choice continues, to the music's benefit. Both records are very well recorded—yet on both, curiously, Denny's lead vocals are not always as clear or as present as the sounds of the backing instruments: a minor quibble. Denny left us in 1978, at the age of 31; as with labelmate Nick Drake, her legacy seems undimmed by the passing of time.

Michael Fremer


Maurice André, Hedwig Bilgram: Trompette et Orgue Vol.5
Maurice André, trumpet; Hedwig Bilgram, organ
Works by C.P.E. Bach, Böhm, Loeillet, Purcell
Erato STU 70651 (LP). 1971. Peter Willemoës, eng. AAA. TT: 42:00

Connoisseurs of classical trumpet are well familiar with Maurice André (1933–2012), whose prodigious recorded output has resulted in a 13-CD compilation from EMI Classics. This program of baroque compositions, recorded in the church of St. Pierre le-Jeune, in Strasbourg, France, features Hedwig Bilgram playing the Silbermann organ, rebuilt and restored by Mühleisen-Kern. I heard this majestic recording for the first time recently on a friend's system, and immediately ordered an original mint pressing for under $20. On a big, full-frequency-response rig you'll be transported to the venue, but even with a modest system the sound should more than satisfy. The music is sublime.


The Gil Evans Orchestra: Out of the Cool
Gil Evans, piano, arr.; Eddie Caine, Ray Beckenstein, piccolo, flute, alto saxophone; Budd Johnson, soprano, tenor saxophones; John Coles, Phil Sunkel, trumpet; Keg Johnson, Jimmy Knepper, trombone; Ray Crawford, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Elvin Jones, Charlie Persip, drums
Impulse! AS-4/Alto-Analogue 008 (LP). 1961/1997. Creed Taylor, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng. AAA. TT: 44:06

Recorded in 1960, following Evans's long arranging stretch with Miles Davis, Out of the Cool opens with the insistent, repetitive, riff'n'rhythm–based "La Nevada," which starts small, builds big, then retreats almost to a dying ember before exploding in an insistent climax. Resplendent with brassy growls and high-pitched shrilling on woodwinds, this 15-minute track never fails to hold and thrill audiences at audio shows, and proves that it's possible to play at such events something other than the same old familiar crap. The finest-sounding version is this one, cut by Bernie Grundman in 1997 for reissue on Alto-Analogue, before the fire at Universal Music consumed the master tapes. A clean RVG original is good too. (Vol.19 No.2, pp.101 & 105)

Larry Greenhill


Erich Kunzel & Cincinnati Pops: Time Warp
Works by Don Dorsey, Jerry Goldsmith, Aram Khachaturian, Stu Phillips, Johann Strauss Jr., Richard Strauss, John Williams
Erich Kunzel, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra
Telarc CD-80106 (CD). 1984. Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DDD. TT: 51:12

This collection of excerpts of music from and associated with science-fiction films, with Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops, has served me over the last 20 years as a reviewing tool for its outstanding imaging, dynamic range, and abundant variety of different tonalities. In my September 1999 review of the Mark Levinson No.334 power amp,5 I wrote that the synthesizer in Don Dorsey's "Ascent" produces "sledgehammer bass and transparent highs" that "erupted out of total black silence with a run of bells, pulses, whooshes, and high-pitched tones like those produced by running your finger over the rim of a glass—all sweeping back and forth across the soundstage at what seemed an infinite number of different loudness levels. The end—a whipcracking shot followed by a deep, subterranean rumble—was eerie, tortured, and unnerving" as it morphed into the opening chords of the introduction to Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra. Those impressions, written two decades ago, still hold true when my audio system is optimized. A winner.


Shostakovich & Barber: Symphony 5, Adagio for Strings
Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Reference Fresh! FR-724 (24/96 WAV). 2017. Dirk Sabotka, prod.; Mark Donahue, eng. DDD. TT: 60:17

It's not every year that an audiophile release wins a Grammy, so when this recording of Shostakovich's Symphony 5 won two in 2018—for Best Orchestral Performance, Classical, and Best Engineered Album, Classical—it caught my attention. It matches and in some ways surpasses my previous favorite, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic's performance in Moscow in September 1959 (LP, Columbia Masterworks MS-6115), following which Bernstein and the composer together took dozens of curtain calls. Honeck's liner note describes how Shostakovich, fearful of being sent by Stalin to a Siberian labor camp, scored a passage in the third movement, Largo, for a "clarinet, bassoon, and contrabassoon [to play] an emotional song of lament, as if somebody is completely lost in the most deserted, cold ice and left to mourn his own fate." The timbral differences between the three winds in that passage are easily distinguished as they play above the violins' tremolo. This effect is enhanced by the ambience of Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, and by the sound of the reed players catching their breaths between notes—it all makes the feeling of being there more realistic and compelling. The symphony concludes with frenzied, explosive bass-drum strokes that here land like hammer blows. This recording of the Shostakovich Fifth is exceptional. (Vol.40 No.11)

Steve Guttenberg


Khruangbin: Con Todo el Mundo
Night Time Stories DOC103 (CD). 2018. Laura Lee, Mark Speer, prods.; Steve Christensen, prod., eng.; Jonathan Lee Chan, Chris Longwood, engs. DDD? TT: 41:56

Hold on a sec—where the hell is this funk groove collection coming from? Who are these people? Khruangbin means airplane in Thai, but this trio is based in Houston: Laura Lee on bass and vocals, Mark Speer on electric guitar, and Donald Johnson Jr. on drums. A healthy dose of reverb adds atmosphere to their trippy tunes, mostly instrumentals. Khruangbin won't knock Steely Dan or Diana Krall off anyone's list of show demo tracks, but they should. If you crave PRAT, you've come to the right place. To hear Khruangbin at their soulful best, play this one loud.


Wingless Angels: Volumes I & II
Mindless 82506 (2 CDs). 2010. Keith Richards, prod.; Rob Fraboni, prod., eng.; John "Pops" Dowling, eng. AAD? TT: 87:34

Keith Richards was spending a lot of time in Jamaica when he fell in love with a rather loose group of players who came to be known as the Wingless Angels. Their trance-inducing music might be best classified as Rastafarian spirituals. Richards jammed with the Angels as they sang, chanted, and worked their magic on hand drums. Their first album was recorded in 1995 in Richards's Jamaican home, the second in a proper studio. Richards summed up the Wingless Angels' sound with this quote: "They play deliberately at just slightly under heart rate. Their drumming goes deeper than your bones, it's marrow music." Right on, Keef! (Vol.21 No.5)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Deep listening :-) ..........

Anton's picture

Some added info:

For Jim Austin's great choices...

1) The Paul Desmond Quartet album can be had on CD, "remastered" in 2015, on a disc called Paul Desmond Quintet & Quartet "Here I Am" that has two albums on the disc, and includes the full album Mr. Austin mentions.

2) If you really wanna Hi Fi up on the Count Basie and the Kansas City Seven album in the digital realm, the Esoteric SACD from their "6 Great Jazz, Impulse!" set is pretty awesome. (It's my favorite digital verson.)

All the discs in that set are great. My wife swoons for the Coltrane Ballads album, and the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman is an all time classic. The set is very worthwhile, I feel.

My only criticism of Jim's entry is that he failed to mention the "Wines To Die For" he was opening when he mentioned sipping!!!


volvic's picture

Anton, does the Count and Coltrane really sound that much better on the Esoteric SACD?

Anton's picture

This being subjective and all...I think they do.

I can hear so far into the Count Basie, it's spookie. There are some studio sounds way way down inside that still make me look around for people when I listen in the dark.

I think the set offers good value.

volvic's picture

What hardware are you using? I am a late adopter to SACD.

Anton's picture

I have an Esoteric DV50 that Alex Peychev modded. He used to do it via APL Hi Fi and I have heard nothing in the past decade to move me away from it! I think he was very early on the scene with clocking mods and such.

Also, a couple of Oppo UDP-205 players that I just can't say enough good things about for the price.

Also, some 8+ year old Marantz players whose model numbers escape me and I am not at home.

This is a generalization, but...I think I find that SACD players have done a better job with redbook CD playback for me, as well.

I really pray SACD remains, I have found great joy in those discs.

volvic's picture

Let me know which Marantz players you like, been looking at the $1k Yamaha player and the soon to be released Technics one. I too hope SACD survives despite not caring for it much when it first came out.

audiophile90's picture

6014.. the 9.2 channel one. It's around $1000 as well, and more future proof than the ones you mentioned.

Anton's picture

Robert Schryer absolutely has his finger on the pulse of greatness with his Bruce Cockburn choice. "Dust and Diesel" is my favorite track on that great album.

Sticking with Bruce...his oeuvre is immense!

"Nothing But A Burning Light," "Charity Of Night," "Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws," "Big Circumstance," "World Of Wonders," "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu," "You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance," well, I was going to mention a few other great Bruce LP's, but how do we slice his awesomeness?

Solidly desert island artist territory there.

Thanks for picking Bruce!

What a Mt. Rushmore of guitar skill he has, as well.

Jon Iverson's picture
Cockburn's In The Falling Dark is also an all-time favorite. The songs are wonderful, but the guitar playing on "Gavin's Woodpile" is exceptional.
Anton's picture

That's the hardest part of narrowing down the list!

All good!

halloweenjack's picture

You can still grab a decent, original mono or stereo copy of this title for semi-reasonable $ - they sound great -

mtrot's picture

Yes, even though the movie is only good, not great, I find myself watching Kingdom of Heaven over and over, simply because the score is so beautiful!

music or sound's picture

This years are the last scrapings of bottom of the barrel. With previous years I discovered some music I found great or at least interesting. Sad!

Anton's picture

146 characters.

If we had to go 140 characters...

This year's are the last scrapings of bottom of the barrel. In the past, I discovered some music I found great or at least interesting. Sad!

There! 140 characters! You are now Presidential!


Bogolu Haranath's picture

Anton ...... Best comment I have read all day ......... You made my day and thank you .:-) ........

Anton's picture

Imagine my country if Twitter had been based on a 17 syllable 5/7/5 format of political communication.

Converting Twitter style to Hi Fi haiku...

Barrel’s last scrapings.
Was much better in the past.
Now not great, so sad.

music or sound's picture

you trumping it! Why one can not express ones opinion without been trolled

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Choices" .......... George Jones :-) ..........

mmole's picture

Some say R2D4 is now passe.
It used to rule (back in the day).
They maintain this year's is very bad
And that for me is awfully sad.
Next up, Recommended Components (oy vey)

Anton's picture

I like your idea!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hopefully AD would write more polite commentary for the recommended components list (oy vey) :-) ........

ok's picture

tonykaz's picture

Tyll, you forgot Tyll dammit. How could you forget Tyll? Tyll is a Giant.

and you forgot...

... Steve Guttenberg!

Steve Guttengerg ( Steve G. ) and Paul McGowan are making significant contributions to the supply of accurate information about all things Audiophile ( especially affordable audio ) , as is the now blooming Kal Rubenson in his explaining of the immersive audio experiences.

Herb R brings the reader into the room and has him share his experience. Herb could be a Michael Connelly and is Audio's all time Great, readers 100 years from now will read Herb and feel the exact same experience that we feel as we read Herb's writing fresh. HR is No.1 with words and prose.

Bob Katz belongs in the Greats List, he's easily the most Credentialed Audiophile Evah!,

Tony in Michigan

ps. I'm not including any Advocates in my listings, a good many Reviewers have obvious Commercial Relationships. Paul McGowan is PS Audio and is my only exception, Paul is a man of Integrity that I've known since 1982

ps. I can't accept the agenda writers, agenda writers are paid to support and will dismiss or diminish defects, even ignore glaring problems. Agenda writers are selling product. example: Tube Gear that eats tubes, Vinyl systems that cost the price of a House. Today, Vinyl is a Collecting and Hoarding hobby based on it's history of being part of the Audiophile Hobby. Vinyl electronics are designed and made to make Vinyl sound good. I was a Vinyl guy.

rschryer's picture

It all comes down to what is pleasurable for the listener.

You don't have to spend a gazillion bucks to have a rewarding vinyl setup. I own a Rega P5 equipped with an Audio Musikraft / Denon DL-103 catridge, which I tend to listen to more regularly than I do my more technologically modern Bryston BDP-1USB streamer / BDA-2 DAC. The latter, for whatever reason, is marginally less involving musically for me than my analog rig.

Don't forget, Tony, that cars and bikes and parking meters are all based on old technologies that keep getting refined. Just like turntables.

ok's picture

..when record (later known as vinyl, please not to be confused with cheap cd plastic) loyalists proudly declared superiority of all things analog as a backlash to the humiliating “perfect sound forever” new digital age chant. Man, hadn't it been so embarassingly difficult for one to simply indulge into one’s miserable little habits with no wish to make the rest of the world appreciate and applause!

tonykaz's picture

I'm not referring to you, you should present a review of your P5 or your Wires or Amplifier or just write about being an Audiophile in Eastern Canada ( fascinating )

I'm referring to the Vinyl Shrine Reviewers.

I own Vinyl.

Vinyl playback has an "Electrified Air" quality about it. Those sizzling lead-in grooves set-up a person's nervously thrilling expectation. Vinyl people have synapses connecting to deliver a dopamine High, that build a memory, reconstructing with the sound of the needle finding the groove. The Brain never quite forgets it's vinyl wiring circuits. All music works this way, it's whats delightful about Singing and playing music.

Vinyl is 100% a "hands-on" experience, there is no Auto Pilot in a vinyl system. It's like flying an older Multi-Engine Aircraft where the busy Pilot is adjusting all aspects of a very complex system. Not for Everyone and it's an entirely different type of experience, well apart from enjoying music itself. Playing Vinyl is something you learn to Master from being a part of a peer group.

A cantankerous Vinyl system, i.e. LINN LP12/Ittok/Koetsu, AudioResearch SP9, Amp & Quads is a hell-of-a Vinyl system, probably $10,000 Used from StereoExchange but it still needs a useful record cleaning machine. Then comes the Record Collecting ( great if you live in Brooklyn,NY ) A wonderful hobby in itself. It's a fully hands-on participation, needing significant monthly financial commitment in a USA where the bottom 50% of the population are POOR, working multiple jobs, no health insurance and struggling on a paycheck to paycheck Basis. So, for many aspiring audiophiles, a $50,000 Magazine Front Cover Product is a Hubristic middle Finger Statement.

Stereophile & JA do provide a useful service to our financially challenged. Mr. HR writes directly to a greater population of disadvantaged Music Lovers, as does Steve G. & Tyll ( long gone ).

Tony in Michigan ( getting our first Snow of the Season )

rschryer's picture

I agree with much of your comment, Tony. However, not sure that me writing about life as an audiophile in Eastern Canada is going to enthrall a predominantly American audience.

BTW, I'm surprised you didn't add your own special memory to my latest AWSI; I peg you as someone who has a gazillion memories, especially considering your lengthy stint in audio retail.

Why don't you regale us with a story?

tonykaz's picture

Telling your Story is exactly what makes Stereophile wonderful.

It's kinda like Walking into a Audio Salon where someone is carefully listening in the Big Audition Room and you join-in. Later you discover the magnificent performance is coming from some small Loudspeaker, not those Big MG3 Magies. Wow, a Story!

You have plenty to say and the ability to say it. You are our Stereophile Foreign Correspondent. Your point of view is an important ingredient to the Larger Audiophile Experience. Your experiences widen-out the Image that Stereophile projects, you bring important dimensionality to what all of us are enhancing our lives with. Your "Voice" brings Clarity and Focus. You've been given a Podium and I'm delighted with JA for it. You're part of the reason JA has his own following and reputation.

Tony in Michigan

ps. of course, everyone has stories but few have the ability to tell them, It takes multiple proof readings and at least one proof reader. ( are you proofing me? )

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for the Invitation, if thats what it is.

I'm just about coming-out of a another crisis.

I haven't yet read the article but did notice the old recorder.

Tony In Michigan

rschryer's picture

..way of expressing yourself, Tony. Your writing sticks out. It is immediately recognizable. It is you. I do not feel compelled to "proof" you or otherwise judge your writing style because it is exactly as it should be.

"You're part of the reason JA has his own following and reputation." Yeah, I know. John's been riding my coattails for a while now, but I'm glad to have given him his big break in the publishing biz. He's a good man.

As usual, thanks for your support, Tony.

tonykaz's picture

Proof reading isn't judgmental, isn't critique.

Proofing is Building, it's constructive, it's enhancing.

It's a successful thing to have a 1st. Proof reader ( like a wife ) and then have 3 additional successive Proof readers to make the writing presentable to the intended audience. Proof readers will transform a writing person into a Steven King! --- then look-out world!!!

The Manufacturing World will always have multiple proofers refining the processes. ( ad infinitum )

Tony in Michigan

BillyC's picture

Tony, why can't we be all natural and write the way we feel? This is only the internet and all, you know. btw I checked your post on Grammarly. It gave your writing 70 (out of 100).


BillyC's picture

 I don't have an idea how those records sound. They are probably good but very much doubt I'd die for owning them. Because in my experience no audio recording is perfect. There are so many parameters affecting a recording that no audio engineer can capture them perfectly. That said, I've come across an old recording recently that blew my mind. I had downloaded an hour-long audiophile (?) YouTube music video that some DJ compiled. There was a song in the video sang by a baritone (didn't have a clue who the singer was but after I uploaded the video on YouTube, UMG on behalf of Roy Rodger's estate claimed the copyright) singing a version of the old tune 'I Don't Hurt Anymore' accompanied by acoustic guitar and bass. I never heard a voice recording so realistic and wonderful in my life. It's what I call 100% transparency. You guys need to check it out. Oh, don't forget to wear your headphones (and the Focal Beryllium tweeter looks yummy). Here is the link:

Drastic's picture

The rules say that R2D4 records must be (or have been) in print and available in the US. Mr. Damkroger interprets this liberally when he offers up the Kubelik Vienna Philharmonic's LP of the Dvorak 9. Originally pressed by Decca and issued on the London label in the US, both are long out of print. Used ones are always available, though near mint copies are rare and command high prices. I am not aware of a reissue that is readily available. Please advise if I have missed it.