Recording of the Month

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Stephen Francis Vasta  |  Mar 13, 2024  |  0 comments
Wagner: Famous Opera Scenes
Nikolai Lugansky (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902393 (CD). Nicolas Bartholomée, prod.; Bartholomée, Ambroise Helmlinger, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics *****

Concert arrangements of operatic themes for piano, like Liszt's famous concert paraphrases, obviously provide an opportunity to display one's virtuosic keyboard technique. As Denis Morrier's program note for Harmonia Mundi indicates, however, transcriptions of Wagner served a second important purpose: spreading awareness of the composer's operas when they only played in a limited number of venues. There was no Spotify or Idagio back then!

Robert Baird  |  Feb 13, 2024  |  5 comments
Van Halen: Van Halen
Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity UD1S 2-032 (2 45rpm LPs). 1978/2023. Ted Templeton, prod.; Donn Landee, Krieg Wunderlich, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

I remember the day I walked into radio station WTGP, "The Great 88," at Thiel College and saw the Van Halen jacket for the first time. Drummer Alex Van Halen was a stereotypical blur. Bassist Michael Anthony acted the part of the metal bro. But that guitarist holding a ramshackle Stratocaster crisscrossed with electrical tape? On the back cover was a hairy-chested dude in profile, athletic tape on his knuckles, bent over backward in high-heeled boots.

Jim Austin  |  Jan 18, 2024  |  4 comments
Jerome Sabbagh: Vintage
Sabbagh, saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Joe Martin, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums
Sunnyside SSC 1698 (LP). 2023. Jerome Sabbagh, prod.; Ryan Streber, Pete Rende, Bernie Grundman, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

This is an album with serious audiophile cred. It was recorded to analog tape on a Studer A800 MKIII at 30ips, by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon, New York. It was mixed, also at 30ips, on a custom, tubed Ampex 351, by Pete Rende. Bernie Grundman mastered it for vinyl and cut the lacquer, direct from the analog tape, on an all-tube system. The executive producer for the vinyl version is Hervé Delétraz of darTZeel, who, Sabbagh told me, helped finance the mastering and pressing. Sabbagh listened to the acetates and test pressings at Ana Might Sound in Paris.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Dec 13, 2023  |  0 comments
Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos.2, 3, 12 & 13
Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons, cond.
Deutsche Grammophon 4864965 (3 CDs) (reviewed as 24/96). 2023. Shawn Murphy, Nick Squire, prods.; Murphy and Squire, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Auditioned with the bloody conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East as a backdrop, these riveting, superbly recorded performances confront listeners with the inescapable ravages of war. They also open a window on the shifting political convictions of one of the greatest composers to emerge during the early years of the Soviet Republic, Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich.

Robert Baird  |  Nov 14, 2023  |  3 comments
The Who: Who's Next/Life House Super Deluxe Edition
Polydor/UME (10 CD, Blu-ray). 1971/2023. The Who, orig. prod.; Glyn Johns, associate prod.; Bill Curbishley, Robert Rosenberg, exec. prods. reissue; Bob Pridden, Richard Whittaker, Andy McPherson, Jaime Howarth, Pete Townshend, engs.; Jon Astley, Layla Astley, remastering engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Impossibly ambitious? Too many demands on the audience? Tommy done better? A final collapse before a glorious resurrection? 1971's Who's Next, which began life as a more-advanced-than-Tommy sci-fi rock opera called Life House (also called Lifehouse), is all that and more. All the elements of this oft-reissued opus have been remastered and reissued in several new configurations, the most complete being the Who's Next/Life House Super Deluxe Edition, which includes 10 CDs with 155 tracks sourced from the original tapes, 89 of them previously unreleased.

Sasha Matson  |  Oct 11, 2023  |  1 comments
Wynton Marsalis: Wynton Marsalis Plays Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives Hot Sevens
Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; eight band members
Blue Engine Records (auditioned as 24/48 FLAC). 2023. Marsalis, exec. prod.; Saundra Palmer-Grassi, Todd Whitelock, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Recorded in 2006 but not released until now, Wynton Marsalis Plays Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives Hot Sevens was recorded live at the Rose Theater, the largest of three performance rooms at the Jazz at Lincoln Center facility. House label Blue Engine Records has now released this concert for streaming.

Anne E. Johnson  |  Sep 12, 2023  |  0 comments
PJ Harvey: I Inside the Old Year Dying
PTKF (auditioned as 16/44.1 FLAC stream on Qobuz). 2023. Produced by PJ Harvey, Flood, and John Parish.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

In 2022, PJ Harvey published an epic poem called Orlam. Harvey's 10th studio album, I Inside the Old Year Dying, isn't exactly a musical setting of Orlam's English- and Dorset-dialect poetry; rather, it's an interpretation of the poem with added improvisation. The result is as bizarre and fascinating as one could hope.

Thomas Conrad  |  Aug 16, 2023  |  0 comments
Henry Threadgill Ensemble: The Other One
12-piece ensemble; Threadgill, conductor
Pi PI97 (CD, available as download). 2023. Liberty Ellman, prod.; Stephen Cooper, Eric Shekerjian, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

At 79, Pulitzer Prize winner and NEA Jazz Master Henry Threadgill is one of the last men standing among the founding fathers of the jazz avant-garde. Because his output of recordings is not voluminous, every new Threadgill release is an event. The Other One is more of an event than most because of its ambition (it is an album-length suite) and its scale: It introduces a new 12-piece ensemble.

Stephen Francis Vasta  |  Jul 18, 2023  |  0 comments
Byrd: Mass for five voices; Choral works
The Gesualdo Six/Owain Park
Hyperion CDA68416 (CD, 2023). Adrian Peacock, prod.; David Hinitt, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Those who, like me, hauled ourselves through college music courses will remember being told that the Byrd Mass for five voices is a masterpiece, a claim soon belied when we were played a performance by some desiccated, monochromatic chorus. Had a recording like the new one by The Gesualdo Six been played instead, we might have agreed more readily with the academic judgment.

Andrey Henkin  |  Jun 17, 2023  |  1 comments
Dave Lombardo: Rites of Percussion
Ipecac IPC-265 (Auditioned as LP). 2023. Lombardo, prod.; Lombardo, David A. Lombardo, John Golden, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Sasha Matson  |  May 17, 2023  |  1 comments
Barbra Streisand: Live at the Bon Soir
Streisand, vocals; Tiger Haynes, guitar; Peter Daniels, piano; Averill Pollard, bass; John Cresci, drums
Legacy/Columbia 19658713762 (reviewed as 24/96 WAV, also available on CD, Gold CD, SACD, 2LP). 2022/23. Barbra Streisand, Jay Landers, Martin Erlichman, prods.; Roy Halee, Adjutor Theroux, Paul Blakemore, Jochem van der Saag, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ***
Thomas Conrad  |  Apr 12, 2023  |  0 comments
Tyshawn Sorey Trio + 1: The Off-Off Broadway Guide to Synergism
Sorey, drums; Aaron Diehl, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Greg Osby, alto saxophone
Pi P196 (3 CDs, available as download). 2022. Sorey, prod.; Kengchakaj Kengkarnka, recording/mixing eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ***½
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 15, 2023  |  7 comments
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto & Chamber Works
Isabelle Faust, violin; Les Siècles, François-Xavier Roth, cond.
Harmonia Mundi 902718 (reviewed as 24/96 WAV download). 2023. Jiri Heger, prod.; Aurélien Bourgois & Alix Ewald, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

You might think that by 1931—the year Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) completed his unforgettable Violin Concerto in D Major—orchestral instruments were the same as those used today. Far from it. According to the website of Claire Givens Violins, pure-gut D strings began to disappear after WWI and were wound with aluminum after WWII. Gut A strings ceded to synthetics in 1970, and gut E strings transitioned to steel between 1910 and WWII. With no consistency between modern orchestras, the string sections we hear in live performances and on electrical recordings set down since 1926 are, for the most part, a grab bag. Wind instruments and pianos have changed as well, and halls have increased in size and pitch has risen. Put all that together, and you can well understand why this "period instrument" recording of music Stravinsky completed between 1907 and 1931 is a revelation.

Robert Baird  |  Feb 15, 2023  |  6 comments
Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy
ABC/Geffen Records/UMG, Analogue Productions UHQR 0010-45 (2 LPs). 2022.
Gary Katz, Chad Kassem, prods.; Roger Nichols, Miss Natalie, Bernie Grundman, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

They were elitist brainiacs. The lyrics were too obscure. Their rhythmic, irresistible pop confections resisted easy description. Yet their debut album, Can't Buy a Thrill, was a surprise hit. The band's response? Knowing that their sales success had bought them goodwill at ABC, their record label, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker went the integrity route. They forgot about hit singles, embraced risk, and fearlessly pushed the genre envelope in the direction of saxophone breaks, funk rhythms, and bluesy explorations.

The result was Countdown to Ecstasy.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 18, 2023  |  3 comments
Caroline Shaw: The Wheel
I Giardini: Shuichi Okada, violin; Léa Hennino, viola; Pauline Buet, cello; Eriko Minami, percussion; David Violi, piano
Alpha 881 (24/192 WAV download). 2022. Olivier Rosset, prod., edit., mastering.
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Prolific composer, vocalist, and violinist Caroline Shaw, who turned 40 just last year, possesses a unique gift—one that earned her the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Shaw has translated the old performer edict "Don't let them see you sweat" into her compositional craft and mastered the art of expressing complex thoughts economically through the simplest of means. Using minimal gestures, spare instrumentation, and unpredictable shifts in rhythm, pitch, and texture, she manages to create one masterful, all-engrossing composition after the other.