J. Gordon Holt

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J. Gordon Holt, Larry Archibald  |  Jul 11, 2013  |  First Published: Feb 11, 1984  |  6 comments
BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in G, Op.96
ENESCU: Violin Sonata No.3, Op.25 (In Rumanian Style)

David Abel, violin, Julie Steinberg, piano
Wilson Audio W-8315 (LP). David Wilson, prod., eng. AAA.

Oh, what a breath of fresh air this is! An audiophile recording of real music that isn't bombastic, overblown, or high-powered.

Imagine, if you can, a private recital in your own home by two consummate artists who play these works for their own delight as much as for yours. Imagine sound so completely and disarmingly natural that after 30 seconds you're unaware it's reproduced. That's what this record is all about.

I could rhapsodize endlessly about this record, but I won't. Suffice it to say that if you think there's even a remote chance you'll like this music, you will be positively mesmerized by this recording of it . . .

J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 03, 2014  |  First Published: Jan 01, 1984  |  2 comments
rotm184.pjil.jpgDebussy: Three Nocturnes; Jeux
Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Bernard Haitink conducting.
Philips ACD 400-023-2 (CD).

This is the first classical CD I have heard that was originally mastered on analog tape, and the sound is quite different from what I'm accustomed to hearing from the silver discs.

I had read so many critics' complaints about excessive background (tape) hiss from analog-mastered CDs that I was fully prepared to be appalled. I wasn't. Perhaps my speakers (Watkins WE-1s as of now) are smoother than what some other critics listen to, perhaps I prefer a more subdued high end than some, but I did not find hiss to be a problem with this Philips disc. Yes, it is audible at high listening levels, but it is not a ssss, it is a hhhh, like the sound of a very gentle rain far off in the background. I have heard worse hiss from microphone preamps.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jun 09, 2014  |  First Published: Jan 01, 1985  |  1 comments
Performance Recordings is the closest thing to a one-man label. James Boyk is president, A&R director, musical director, recording engineer, production manager, jacket notes author, and the star performer. He is also Artist in Residence and lecturer in music and engineering (specifically sound recording and reproduction) at Cal Tech. And he happens to be one of digital's most ardent detractors, having conducted, and widely publicized, several controlled listening tests that proved to his satisfaction that digital recordings are destructive to musical sound. (I will not question his methodology or conclusions here; suffice it to say that James is as stalwartly pro-analog and anti-digital as it is possible to be.)
J. Gordon Holt  |  Aug 08, 2017  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1980  |  6 comments
MOUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on Bald Mountain
Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond.
Telarc 80042 (LP). Recorded at Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland, OH. Edited at Soundstream, Inc. Mastered at JVC Cutting Center. Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng.; Stan Ricker, mastering eng. DAA.

This is unquestionably the best recording Telarc has done to date. It is almost impossible to fault. If I were to pick nits, I would complain about a slight lack of air in the strings. The rest is, simply, superlatives!

J. Gordon Holt  |  Oct 24, 2013  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1987  |  0 comments
Copland: Appalachian Spring (Suite), Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson, An Outdoor Overture (CD only)
Pacific Symphony Orchestra/Clark/Marni Nixon (soprano)
Reference Recordings LP RR-2 and CD RR-22CD. Tam Henderson, prod.; Keith Johnson, eng.

This is unquestionably one of the best recordings Reference Recordings has done. The sound of the LP is up-front and quite bright, giving the orchestra that peculiarly nasal quality I usually associate with small French orchestras. There is truly remarkable detail and naturalness here; I was about to write that the recording makes the orchestra sound very small and pinched in Appalachian Spring when I noticed on the record jacket that this is the "Original version for 13 instruments." Okay, so I know what it costs to hire musicians in the US, but I still prefer the version of this work scored for full, bombastic, overblown 108-piece symphony orchestra. The 13 instruments are superbly balanced, though—even the piano, which is usually (and wrongfully) relegated to behind the orchestra. About a half a block behind it.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 14, 2015  |  First Published: Mar 01, 1982  |  5 comments
82award.250pr.jpgElgar: Orchestral Works
Falstaff, The Sanguine Fan, Fantasia and Fugue in c (transcribed from J.S. Bach), excerpt from The Starlight Express
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2-501 (half-speed–mastered LP, pressed in Japan, 1981). Originally released as HMV ASD 2970 (LP, 1974). Reissued as EMI CDM 7 63133 2 (CD, 1989). Christopher Bishop, prod.; Christopher Parker, Stuart Eltham, engs.

We have never before bestowed an award on anyone for anything. We felt obliged to do it on Mobile Fidelity for their remastering of the EMI Elgar Falstaff recording because it is the first time to our knowledge that a single classical release has combined a performance and a recording which are both good enough that neither need be done again. Our congratulations to Mobile Fidelity's Gary Giorgi. Now, let's have some more, from Mobile Fidelity or any other source. We have more awards to hand out when and if.—J. Gordon Holt

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jun 30, 2015  |  First Published: May 01, 1982  |  2 comments
666shefdrum.jpgThe Sheffield Drum Record
Improvisations by Jim Keltner and Ron Tutt (drums)
Sheffield LAB-14 (LP) (1981). Reissued as FIM DXD 001 (CD) (2010). Bill Schnee, Doug Sax, prods.; Lincoln Mayorga, exec. prod.; Steve Haselton, Bill Schnee, engs. TT: 13:49.

There was a time when drum records were as common as records of steam locomotives and thunderstorms. It has been so long since anyone has tackled any of them that a lot of technology has gone over the dam, but they are precisely the kind of program material which illuminate the state of the audio art like nothing else. Thus, Sheffield's Drum Record emerges as a landmark—a technological tour de force that should discourage anyone else from issuing a similar disc until the state of the art advances by a few more years.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 06, 2017  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1981  |  0 comments
Bernie Krause: Citadels of Mystery
Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-505 (LP).

This is a very hyped, contrived recording, but then nobody ever pretended that this kind of musical construction was supposed to approximate the sound of a live performance. The strings are quite steely on this but, in all other respects, the recording is is stupendous—unctuously rich, smooth and limpidly clear, with some awesomely taut low end and cuttingly crisp percussion sounds.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 10, 2014  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1983  |  4 comments
1183rotm.250.jpgRimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner conducting.
RCA ".5 Series" ARP1-W27 (LP).

In case you didn't already know, ".5" is RCA's name for their half-speed-–mastered line of audiophile LPs, whose releases to date have included many recordings, as well as some real gems, from their archive of older stereo recordings.

Their choice of old recordings is interesting to say the least, as it shows a side of RCA's classical division that we thought had atrophied and blown away many years ago: musical judgment. Instead of going for their most sonically spectacular tapes from yesteryear, the choices here were clearly made on the basis of musical performance first, with sound as a secondary consideration.

Margaret Graham, J. Gordon Holt  |  Sep 05, 2017  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1978  |  5 comments
Bill Berry and His Ellington All-Stars: For Duke
Works by Duke Ellington
Bill Berry, cornet; Ray Brown, bass; Frankie Capp, drums; Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; Nat Pierce, piano; Marshal Royal, alto sax; Britt Woodman, trombone.
M&K Real-Time RT-101 (direct-to-disc LP).

This is to-date the best direct-to-disc recording I have heard. For once I can't complain about the high end being shrill or hard. The balances are excellent and the performances superior, with each member of the group getting his chance to show off. Marshal Royal's saxophone solos must be heard to be believed, Everyone present is obviously having a good time making music, which is the way it always ought to be but often isn't.

Margaret Graham, J. Gordon Holt  |  Aug 29, 2017  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1979  |  1 comments
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture (Op.49), Capriccio Italien (Op.45 ), "Cossack Dance" from Mazeppa (LP), plus Marche slav, Op.31, Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin , Op.24, Festival Coronation March (CD).
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Kiev Symphony Chorus; Children's Choir of Greater Cincinnati, Erich Kunzel cond.
Telarc Digital DG-10041 (LP, CD-80041 (CD). 1979 (LP), 1984 (CD). Edited at Soundstream, Inc. Robert Woods, prod.; Jack Renner, eng. DAA (LP), DDD (CD). TT: 35:19 (LP), 60:23 (CD).

I must say I'm getting a bit bored with the 1812 Overture, but as long as there are audiophiles, it will be recorded due to the stringent demands it can make upon one's playback system. This version produced by Telarc is going to be hard to beat. The cannon fire is unbelievable.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Feb 24, 2015  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1982  |  2 comments
The Sheffield Track Record
Robbie Buchanan and James Newton Howard, keyboards; Lennie Castro, percussion; Nathan East, bass guitar; Mike Landau, guitar; Carlos Vega, drums. Ron Tutt, and Jim Keltner, drum solos. TT: 22:13.
Sheffield LAB-20.

What, a recording of rock backup tracks? Who could care less? Me, is who. Quibble over the program if you will (actually, it isn't all that dull, and two of the numbers are fun to listen to), but this wasn't released for the program material. You might call it a tantalizing sample of where a lot of rock sound begins, before it is fuzzed, reverbed, and cross-dubbed God knows how many times before the final mess is released for the edification of the peons. This has to be one of the most astonishing rock recordings ever issued! The Absolute Sound's Harry Pearson (who obviously got his before we got ours, as you are reading this 9 weeks after our copy arrived) is quoted on the jacket as declaring this to be "Absolutely the best-sounding rock record ever made." He's right.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Oct 21, 2014  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1983  |  2 comments
Billy Joel: The Stranger
CBS CD 35DP2 (CD) and JC34987 (digitally mastered, CX-encoded LP).

This is one of four recordings we now have on hand in both the CD and digital-mastered LP formats, and all reviews of these will be parallel reviews. In the case of the CBS discs, there is no "conventional" version, as all of their recent LP releases are CX-encoded. Thus, I will be comparing decoded CXed CBS LPs (footnote 1) with their CD equivalents.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 08, 2014  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  3 comments
1084rotmjgh.jpgSaint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2
Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Bella Davidovich (pno), Concertgebouw Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi, cond.
Philips CD 410-052 2 (CD), 6514-164 (LP).

At last we're starting to realize some of the promise of CD from a major record company. This is the best CD recording I've heard yet from Philips. Both of these are virtuoso romantic works requiring a big piano sound and the stamina to produce it for 6–10 minutes at a stretch, which is probably why few lady pianists will tackle them. Bella Davidovich pulls these off with great aplomb.

To me, the Saint-Saëns is the better of the two, and is one of the truly great performances of this work. I grudgingly rate it as equal to my long-time favorite, the Rubinstein/Reiner performance on a 1958 RCA LP (LSC-2234), although I would have liked a little more TLC from Ms. Davidovich in the first movement. She seems a little rushed where an occasional lingering caress is indicated, but that is quibbling with what is a really rousing performance.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Apr 10, 2014  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1985  |  1 comments
985rotm.shost250.jpgShostakovich: Symphony 15
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting.
JVC/Melodiya CD VDC-528 (CD). Igor Veprintsev, eng. AAD.

I have been wondering recently if we aren't seeing the beginning of the end of rotten recordings. I'm now not too surprised when yet another superlative-sounding Telarc or Reference Recordings disc arrives for review, but when a Soviet-made Melodiya blows me away with its sound, not to say a stupendous performance, I must conclude that something earthshaking is going on.

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