Recording of October 1989: Ysaÿe Kreisler Bach

J.S. Bach: Partita No.2, BWV 1004, Kreisler: Recitativo & Scherzo, Op.6, Ysaÿe: Sonata, Op.27 No.2
Arturo Delmoni, violin
Water Lily Acoustics WLA-WS-07 (LP), WLA-WS-07-CD (CD). Kavichandran Alexander, eng., prod. AAA/AAD. Subsequently released on CD as John Marks Records CD JMR 14G (footnote 1). TT: 48:03

This recording ought to come with a pedigree. In fact, the first spread of the CD booklet practically is a pedigree. This is blueblood audiophilia all the way. People listed as being involved, one way or another, include Tim de Paravicini, Jason Bloom (Apogee Acoustics sponsored the recording), Bill Lewis, Dr. Sao Win, and, oh yes, St. Anthony.

Delmoni_250.jpgIt's almost enough to make you forget the artist, Arturo Delmoni, who has his own pedigree of teachers: Dorothy DeLay, Nathan Milstein, Jascha Heifetz, and Josef Gingold. But forget the artist is one thing you will definitely not do once you lay your ears on this extraordinary release.

Let's appease the technofreaks first, though, with a rundown of some of the equipment used in this unique effort. Microphones and preamp: custom-built vacuum-tube designs by Tim de Paravicini of EAR. Power amps: EAR 509 Mk.IIs. Recorder: "Jack Mullin Special" Ampex MR 70 (using nuvistors) with custom heads designed by—you guessed it—Tim de Paravicini. Monitor speakers: Apogee Acoustic Caliper Signatures. Not exactly your typical recording setup.

But what about the music that this purebred hardware was assembled to serve?

Arturo Delmoni's previous recording, Songs My Mother Taught Me (North Star/MFSL; see my review in Vol.11 No.8), consisted of comparatively lightweight encore pieces and displayed tastefully brilliant musicianship. Here, listen to Delmoni's Bach after hearing Perlman's technical alchemy or Milstein's soulful depth-sounding, and you may come away underwhelmed. Listen again. Delmoni is sneaky. His playing is subdued, almost reticent, but you start to notice small inflections, phrases you almost don't recognize because you've never heard them played quite this way before. What sounds at first like a straight, literal reading becomes ingeniously imaginative once you are attuned to Delmoni's nearly self-effacing understatement. This is a superbly unselfconscious interpretation, with penetrating insight. Delmoni's Bach is extremely fluid, with perhaps a touch of Romantic legato, but it's impossible to escape its seductive warmth, patience, and intelligence. And it's enormously refreshing to hear the famous Chaconne nurtured by technical restraint and filled with constant subtle surprises.

Delmoni should also be praised for including the Ysaÿe sonata. This fascinating piece starts with a rather innocuous little melody that leads to four movements of ruminations on "Dies irae." Here again, there is an almost stoic absence of showmanship. The intricate passagework, full of multi-stops and polyphonic textures, is a test of technical skill, and Delmoni navigates it with convincing grace. It is a superb performance. The more familiar Recitativo and Scherzo by Kreisler is equally well handled, with an especially noteworthy sense of mystery in the harmonic passage.

But one of the best things about Delmoni's outstanding performance is that it seems to get better as the system you're listening on improves.

On my own system (see Vol.11 No.6), I wasn't especially enthusiastic about the sound, undoubtedly due to my manically high expectations. It was somewhat dry, with the direct sound of the violin curiously detached from the hall ambience. There was some veiling and bloat, plus a pinched quality and lack of natural violin brilliance. All these characteristics were less obvious on the LP version. It was an exceptionally good sound, don't get me wrong, but I was expecting even more.

So I called Bill Gibson at House of Stereo here in Jacksonville and asked if I could get a second opinion on one of his shop systems. After all, this wasn't a typical recording, and it was monitored on a system radically different from my own. Passing up the Quads, Levinsons, etc., we listened on a fairly modest setup consisting of all-Adcom electronics (CD player, 555 preamp, 555 power amp) and Magnepan's new $980 1.4s connected by Monster Powerline 2.

Well, there it was—a violin, a damn-near real violin. The brilliant, feathery sheen was there. The instrument and its environment were one, in an astonishingly tangible, three-dimensional perspective. Not a hint of the dryness I had heard at home. And the image height soared. It's almost scary to think what this might sound like on a true killer system.

Delmoni's performance alone makes this disc an easy recommendation. The performances of engineer Kavichandran Alexander, Tim de Paravicini, and the host of contributors make it a must. The next time you drain your wallet on new gear, this recording will put your conscience to rest. It's worth it.—Robert Hesson

Footnote 1: In 2010, the gold version of this CD was made available from the e-commerce page at this site. Click here for details.—Ed.