The title of this disc may be a bit misleading, because Bax did not write a lot of film music, and was not particularly interested in the genera to begin with. The most notable was for the 1948 release of Oliver Twist, based upon a piece of Dickens literature that he did not consider particularly notable to begin with. The only other thing he did was for a film short entitled Malta GC. The GC stood for George Cross, and the film was about the island's heroic resistance to Axis attacks during World War II. This disc contains both works.
Although the music was originally composed as a background, the material for Oliver Twist can actually stand on its own right. This particular recording combines several different drafts and versions and so what we have is what can be considered to be the full score, including parts that were not actually used in the original movie. Overall, the result is pleasant to listen to and from a musical perspective I can easily recommend it.
I can also recommend it in terms of technical excellence. Although this release was not engineered by one of the Cousins brothers, the Chandos trademark sound is still present: a wide soundstage, with substantial frontal depth, rich textures, and plenty of recorded ambiance. The imaging is also more precise than what one normally gets with large-ensemble material, and the result is a close-up sound that those who prefer the front rows will fully enjoy.
The wide staging worked very well with the Classical/Opera mode available from my main system's Yamaha RX-Z1 receiver. The center was better stabilized when listening from off axis, and yet the frontal spread was not compromised. The overall spaciousness was enhanced, with the sense of hall envelopment moved further out into the listening room where it belonged. Dolby Pro Logic II (music) decoding was also terrific, but I still preferred the Classical/Opera mode, which was superior to all the others, including the many concert-hall simulation modes.
Buxtehude, Dietrich: Complete Works For Organ, Volume 2. Bine Bryndorf, Organ. Recorded in 2003, in St. Mary's Church, Elsinore, Denmark. Engineer: Clemens Johansen. 51+ minutes. DaCapo 8.226008.
Buxtehude is not a name that rises to one's lips when organ (or other) music is being discussed by most mainstream audio buffs. Bach is the man for them (and nearly everyone else), and of course recordings by any romantic- or modern-era composer who wrote music for huge, deep-throated, and dynamic organs would also be high on any buff's list of potential demo releases.
We must remember, however, that perhaps the most notable jump in the development of organ music took place in Germany during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and Buxtehude was one of the primary movers in this new tradition. And he was so before Bach even came on the scene. Indeed, the composer, one of the more important Lutheran composer/musicians who flourished in the generation before Bach, was known for both his choral works and his organ church music.
Buxtehude was born ca. 1637, in the Danish town of Helsingborg (it is now part of Sweden), and he died in 1707. During his formative years, and up until 1660, he was organist at Helsingborg's St. Mary's church. He later moved to Lubeck, in Germany (possibly, because the pay was considerably greater than what he was earning in Helsingborg), where he took the position as organist and musical director, as well as business administrator and treasurer of that city's own St. Mary's church.
In 1673 he organized a series of evening concerts, mostly of sacred works, on each of the five Sundays before Christmas. His stature was such that during that Advent season these "evening musical devotions" (Abendmusiken) that he composed and directed attracted musicians from all over Germany who wanted to hear them. (It is said that in 1705 these choral/organ devotional performances induced J.S. Bach to travel over 200 miles to both experience Buxtehude's music and hear the composer perform on the organ.) Works which illustrate on a grand scale the Baroque conflict between impulse and order are best illustrated by the monumental organ compositions of the North German composers of this era, and Buxtehude was the most notable musician to exemplify this new style. Indeed, critic Alfred Einstein has said that without Buxtehude Bach's passacaglia would never have existed.
The so-called "choral prelude" for organ, which has traditionally been based upon a choral melody, probably originated as a liturgical form. The organist essentially accompanied the choir or congregation, but over a period of time the organ parts themselves became finished products that retained the name but excluded the vocal sections. Buxtehude was a master of this highly subjective and poetic compositional technique, and some of the works presented on this disc were designed to either stand alone or accompany vocal parts.
This is one fine recording; easily demo grade. The playing is superb, and there is plenty of depth, detail, and church ambiance captured by the microphones. Although the Elsinore organ is not a large one, employing a good subwoofer is not a bad idea when listening to this material. There are some decent low-frequency passages here and there, even if they do not plumb the usual 32-foot depths we find with some demo-organ releases. The recording responded outstandingly well to various DSP ambiance simulations from my Yamaha RX-Z1 receiver.
I did do some quick AB comparing between one piece on this disc, Ach Herr, Mich Armen Sunder, and the same work on a superbly recorded and performed Chandos release: Piet Kee Plays Buxtehude and Sweelinck (0514). The Chandos transcription, one of the best-recorded organ recordings I have ever encountered, is more distant and a bit more transparent, but the DaCapo release is closer up, broader staged, and somewhat fuller sounding. No doubt, much of this involves the different church acoustics. I'll award the technical prize to the Chandos release (which was recorded way back in 1988 and engineered by Ralph Couzens), but not by much, and some individuals would no doubt prefer the recorded acoustics of the DaCapo transcription.
I also compared another piece, Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, to a version that can be found on volume I of the Naxos set, Buxtehude, Organ Music (8.554543), and which I included on my recommended recordings list in issue 89. In this case, the Naxos item is a bit smaller in scale and leaner, although in this case I would still give a slight technical edge to this new DaCapo transcription. All three recordings are terrific (this praise includes their musical qualities), and I can easily recommend any of them to those who want to see what Buxtehude is all about.
Diamond, David: Symphony Number 2 and Symphony Number 4. Seattle Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz. Recorded in 1989 and 1990. Engineers: John Eargle (Number 1) and Andrew Dawson (Number 2). 59+ minutes. Naxos 8.559154.
As I noted in my issue 98 review of another Naxos reissue of an earlier Delos release, Diamond's Symphony Number 1 and Violin Concerto Number 2, Diamond, who was born in 1915, is a modern Romantic and neo-classic composer who is working in a post-Romantic era. Because of this, I indicated that he and a number of others in the neo-Romantic school have been dismissed by some modernists as out of touch with musical reality. However, "reality" is in the eyes of the beholder, and I find Diamond's symphonic music considerably easier to listen to and enjoy than some of the other "serious" music that has been composed over the past few decades. If music cannot entertain, what good is it?
Diamond was a depression-era and World War II era composer (the Number 2 was composed at the beginning of the US involvement in the war and the Number 4 appeared near the end) and his music illustrates both the angst and the exuberance of the times. While his music is not derivative by any means (it exhibits a combination of melodic grace, a crisply dissonant texture, and tightly knit forms), it still illustrates qualities that can be found both in the compositions of Aaron Copland and Gustav Mahler.
Hoping to be taken seriously by the European musical establishment, the composer lived in Italy during the 1950s. Unfortunately for him the musical powers that be in that country and Europe in general were dominated by serialism, the twelve-note technique, and the intellectualized-music philosophies of men such as Pierre Boulez. Diamond returned to the USA in 1965, and since that time his music, which in most cases is more American in structure and theme than European, has been received with renewed enthusiasm.
As with the previous recording, I have reviewed this material before (in my book The Digital Audio Music List, published by A-R Editions back in 1999), although when I did so it was as Delos DE 3093. And as with that other Naxos reissue, this release is no longer available as a new Delos recording and the reissue leaves off a third piece that was included on that original CD, namely the Concerto for Small Orchestra. It again appears that Naxos has picked up some of the reproduction rights as part of its "American Classics" series, and so we have what is basically a 2003 reissue of material that was recorded over 14 years earlier.
I do not have the earlier release on hand to compare to this reissued material (had checked that one out of our university's music library), but my thoughts concerning this version remain pretty much the same, even though this one has been remastered by the current Seattle Symphony recording engineer, Albert Swanson. The recording exhibits an outstanding soundstage spread and fine depth, combined with a comfortable mid-hall listening perspective. The sound easily holds its own with recordings produced by any of the most up-to-date two-chal-unel technologies today.
My earlier review indicated that Dolby Pro Logic decoding tended to squeeze the soundstage a bit (this is typical, and can often be successfully countered by backing off the center level a few dB). However, the newer Dolby Pro Logic II (music) decoding available from my main system's Yamaha RX-Z1 receiver allowed the soundstage width to hold (without diddling with the center-channel's level control), while at the same time stabilizing the center when listening some distance from the preferred sweet spot. Better yet in this case was the receiver's Classical/Opera DSP mode (although in this case the center level had to be backed off by 3 dB to minimize squeezing), which allowed a more enveloping hall feel to develop. I recommend this reissue highly.
Genna, George: Chain of Events, with Gary Mazzaroppi and Bill Jones. Recorded in 2004, at MorningStar Studios, Springhouse, Pennsylvania. Engineers: Grant Birchard and Thomas M. Petroski Jr. 60+ minutes. Summit 383.
This jazz-trio release features clean re-arrangements of assorted pop and motion-picture theme music, as well as some original material written by Genna. For the most part, the re-arrangements of the pop tunes are nearly unrecognizable, and I had to listen to Moon River twice to pick out any of the original themes. Nevertheless, if the music on the disc is accepted on its own terms, this jazz-trio performance is solidly rewarding.
The sound is also quite good, with presentable detail, a moderately wide soundstage, a nice blend up front, and a good sense of space. When I tried my usual Classical/Opera DSP application the sound tended to squeeze too much into the center channel for a proper feel, but the Village Vanguard jazz-club simulation available from my middle system's Yamaha DSP-A1 processor/amp worked quite well. The best sound was generated by the Dolby Pro Logic II (music) mode available in my main system.
Haydn, Franz Joseph: String Quartets, Op. 50, numbers 1-6. The Lindsays. Recorded in 2003, at Holy Trinity Church, Wentworth, Yorkshire, England. Engineers: Martin Haskell (1-3) and Andrew Halifax (4-6). 139+ minutes. ASV Gold 4007 and 4008.
By 1782 Haydn was probably Europe's most celebrated composer, and publishers were lining up to print anything he wrote. In 1784, for the price of 300 Florins, the Viennese publisher Artaria requested that the composer produce a new set of six quartets. (The Op. 33 quartets had already been published and had helped to make Haydn more famous than ever.) However, he became sidetracked with other projects (among them the "Paris" symphonies) and the complete Op. 50 material was not fully in print until late in 1787. Because of the delay, it has been said that these "Prussian" quartets were composed in response to six quartets that Mozart had dedicated to Haydn in 1785. However, there is little of Mozart's expansive lyricism in the Op. 50 material, and Haydn was obviously not trying to mimic or one up Mozart. Whatever the case, their final dedication was to King Frederick William II, of Prussia. Hence, their secondary appellation.
I listened to this superbly performed material on my middle system, headed up by Dunlavy Cantata main speakers, and the result exhibited wonderful detail, focus, and imaging. Yes, imaging. The latter characteristic often means little with larger scale works if we are talking about precision, but with quartet ensembles generating a simulated close-up soundstage in can mean plenty.
String quartet music will always include a cello part, and in this case the advantage of employing a good equalizer with speakers that may allow mid-bass boundary-related suckout cancellations to develop was clearly evident. Rather than the lack of richness we sometimes get with installations that do not have flat response in the middle bass (this is common with subwoofer-satellite systems, too, particularly if the satellites are on the small side), the middle system allowed the cello to make its statements with complete authority.
The various surround-sound hall simulations available from my middle-system's Yamaha DSP-Al processor/amp were terrific, provided the selected faux space was not too large. Perhaps the best mode was the processor's smaller jazz/club option, which basically mimics a nice, rather intimate environment and does not mandate that all source material be jazz. I also tried the Classical/ Opera mode, but it just did not work to good effect with this recording, primarily because of its strong point: a center-channel feed derived from the L+R part of the signal. The somewhat high-mounted center-channel speaker in my middle system allowed the small soundstage to develop a hump in the center. This is not the case with every kind of music (see reviews of the Schubert piano and Telemann recorder material up ahead), but it was the case here.
Lawson, Chad: Unforeseen, with Alfred Sergel and Zack Page. Recorded ca. 2004, at Carmel Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. Engineer: Marc McManeus. 46+ minutes. Summit 402.
This is easy listening jazz-trio music that is very easy to listen to. The sound is clean and smooth, although the bass line was a tad on the heavy side, at least on my main system. On my middle system the balance was somewhat better, due to the refined subwoofer bass equalization available from that installation's Rane THX-44 equalizer. The two-channel stage spread was a tad narrow, but the effect was no problem with speakers placed reasonably far apart.
The Yamaha Jazz/Club ambiance synthesis mode available from both of my main- and middle-system processors opened up the soundfield and the result was a nice sense of mid-distance space and refined detail, in addition to enhanced depth and focus, particularly from the sweet spot. When I tried the Yamaha Classical/Opera mode on the main system the moderate bass bloating diminished considerably, probably because the steered center channel makes use of a subwoofer that is equalized by my AudioControl C-131 1/3-octave unit.
Because the Classical/Opera surround mode also makes use of a derived and steered L+R feed to the center speaker (located only slightly below the horizontal axis of the left and right main speakers in this system), the soundstage was better focussed than with just two channels. This was particularly the case when listening from off the center axis. This is enhanced realism, because with two channels you nearly always get a substantial shift towards the nearer speaker when sitting away from the central axis, and yet you never get this effect at a live performance. Dolby Pro Logic II (music) was also very effective, and probably superior to any of the other listening options with an ensemble of this size.
Incidentally, the center subwoofer in the main system is now my modified SVS 16-46 unit, which has replaced the Hsu TN1220 I have had in there for several years. The Hsu is still employed elsewhere, however, and has replaced the SVS in my middle system. The swap was done, because I replaced the sliding closet doors in that room with ventilated bi-fold models and the corner-located, 16-inch diameter SVS unit was being bumped by a door handle when the left-most door was fully opened. The more slender Hsu enclosure has no such problem. The performance of both subs is essentially the same, so no performance changes resulted, although both systems required a slight amount of re-equalization and level adjusting.
Mills, Pete: Art and Architecture (with Dennis Irwin, Matt Wilson, Pete McCann, and Bobby Floyd). Recorded in 2003, at Acoustic Recording, Brooklyn. Engineers: Pete Mills, Michael Brorby, and Tom Christensen. 51+ minutes. Summit 393.
All of the quintet-ensemble material on this disc was written by Pete Mills, and the result is a modern, "post-bop," sometimes blues style with a bit of easy-style listening and bossa nova thrown into the mix. The sound is clean, with excellent soundstaging and frontal depth. The recorded reverb is a bit on the dry side but coming on too strong in this area might sound fake, and the resulting mix manages to work very well when applying some DSP ambiance enhancements to the two-channel tracks.
A straightforward jazz/club surround enhancement, courtesy of the RX-Z1 processor in my main system, resulted in not only moving the sense of environmental space out into the listening room, but also added a bit of extra depth and even clarity up front. Yes, I know this sounds odd, because many audio purists believe that combining surround-sound ambiance synthesis with two-channel source material will muddy up the sound. However, in some situations this is not the case at all. I really do not know why this happens, but it has happened with some of the jazz material I have reviewed in the past and it also happened with this disc. My theory is that the synthesized ambiance from the front "effects" channels have something to do with this.
I also tried the processor's Dolby Pro Logic II (music) surround enhancements, as well as Yamaha's own Classical/Opera hall simulation, which delivers seven channels of audio from a two-channel source. DPL II was quite good, with a tighter feel up front than the standard Yamaha hall- and club-simulation modes. (The DPL II mode does not include the front effects channels available with the Yamaha processor, but only the standard side/rear surrounds.) However, guess what, the Classical/ Opera mode (which, like DPL II, makes use of a derived and steered L+R blend fed to the center channel speaker) worked best of all, particularly when listening from away from the sweet spot. Don't think that the Classical/Opera mode is strictly for classical or opera sources. It can work with both large and smaller-scale presentations. In any case, this is a nice disc, with a nice sound.
University of Miami Concert Jazz Band: Romances. Recorded in 2003 at Criteria Studios, Miami. Engineers: Mack Emerman and Dennis Hetzendorfer. 66+ minutes. Summit 368.
Summit is known as an outfit that gives lesser musicians a chance at fame. However, the University of Miami jazz ensemble is already famous within jazz circles (at least at the college-academic level), and so in this case we have the recording company doing a favor not only for the musicians but also for us. Founded in 1967, the ensemble has worked with a number of jazz greats as guest performers. In addition to performing a number of other jazz works, the disc features the debut of a new work by composer Maria Schneider.
The sound is clean and solid (as are the musical performances), with imaging that is quite good, and the detail is what you would get from a close-up seat. There is a bit of pan potting at work, but the job is done in reasonably good taste. Admittedly, the highlighting of individual instruments as they take center stage tends to make them grow a bit too large when basic DSP surround enhancements are applied by a home processor similar in ambiance-generating behavior to any of my three Yamaha units. However, either of the derived-center modes I tried (the "music" version of Dolby Pro Logic II with my main system's RX-Z1 receiver, or that system or my middle system making use of the Yamaha Classical/Opera function) worked quite well. Both managed to tame the highlighted performers enough to present a quite realistic soundstage.
Schubert, Franz Peter: Four Hand Piano Works, Volume 2: The "Hungarian Duets (1824). Claire Aebersold and Ralph Neiweem. Recorded in 2003, at The Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio, Chicago. Engineer: Chris Willis. 141+ minutes (2-disc set). Summit 404.
This presentation is a masterful performance and recording of masterpiece-grade music. No matter what your musical tastes might be, if you are a real music lover you will love the presentations found on this two-disc set.
Recording the piano is always problematic when it comes to stereo sound reproduction in home-listening environments. If a close-up perspective is recorded, the result will vary tremendously, depending upon the space between the speakers and the relationship of that space to the listening distance. If you have too wide an angle between the speakers the piano, depending upon the microphone technique involved, may sound elephantine and diffuse. A narrower speaker angle is safer, because the worse damage that kind of placement can do is subjectively move the listener further out into the hall.
On the other hand, if the recorded perspective itself puts the piano at a distance, with most of its sound basically L+R mono, and with the "stereo" part of the feed mostly involving hall ambiance, a widely spaced pair of speakers may offer up a degree of live-music realism that cannot be matched by closer-spaced speakers. Yep, single-instrument piano recordings can be a problem.
In this case, the sound is basically middle distance in perspective, and the result offers up the best of both worlds. While straight stereo and several of the smaller-hall simulations available from my middle system's DSP-A1 processor-amp and Dunlavy Cantata main speakers were very good sounding, I also got remarkably good results with that system's Classical/Opera simulation. That mode brings the powered center channel into play (the center speaker is a horizontally oriented NHT VS1.2) with a steered signal derived from the L+R part of the mix.
Unfortunately, with some material the location of the center speaker higher up on an RPTV (including mine) tends to distort the soundstage. Having the sound from the center originating from higher up than that from the left and right main-channel speakers tends to create a hump-shaped situation that simply does not exist at live performances. (See the review of the Haydn material, above.)
However, this is usually the case only with large-ensemble material spread across the soundstage, or smaller ensembles with precise imaging. With a well-managed, single-instrument piano recording a center speaker that is not too high up can do a terrific job of simulating the instrument at a good, mid-hall listening distance, while at the same time allowing the remaining channels (left, right, front-effects, and standard surround) simulate a realistic sense of small-hall space. It is a rare recording that can tolerate a large number of DSP ambiance-simulation modes, and this is one of them.
Get this disc, and if possible get Volume One, too. You will love both of them.
Telemann, Georg Philipp: Six Trios, 1718. Camerata Koln. Recorded at the Deutschlandfunk Sendesaal, 2003. Engineer: Klaus Heieck. 52+ minutes. CPO 957.
Here goes a hard sell for Telemann (one of my favorite composers), not to mention a hard sell for this disc. I did a short info bit on the man in issue 99, but this time I will lay it on a bit thicker.
These days, while nowhere near as well known as Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (themselves not particularly well known by modern pop-music freaks), Telemann was actually one of the most famous musical luminaries of his generation. Indeed, possibly the most prolific of all composers, he wrote 12 cycles of cantatas for the Church year, each cycle having one cantata per Sunday. (By comparison, Bach wrote five such cycles.) He also wrote 46 passions (Bach wrote 4), 40 operas (Bach wrote none), masses, motets, sonatas, chamber music, keyboard works, concertos, overtures, suites, and other orchestral works.
Born in 1681, in Magdeburg, he received instruction in Latin, rhetoric, and dialectic at the Altstadtisches Gymnasium and the Domschule in Magdeburg. By the age of 10 he had learned to play the violin, the flute, the zither, and keyboard instruments. At the age of 12 he began composing an opera, prompting his mother, who wished him to study law, to forbid him to continue his musical studies.
In late 1693 or 1694 he was sent to school at Zellerfield. He remained at the school for four years before moving to the Gymnasium Andreanum at Hildesheim. There he composed incidental songs for Latin school dramas, became involved in performances of German cantatas, and made visits to Hannover and Brunswick, where he became exposed to French instrumental music and Italian opera.
In 1701 he entered Leipzig University with the intent of studying law as his mother wished. However, he also organized a student Collegium Musicum there in the following year, and eventually his law studies were supplanted by a musical education. (One assumes that his mother gave up on him.) His skills were such that he was appointed music director of the Leipzig Opera, where he used students in productions.
In 1704 he became organist at the Neue Kirche, and the following year he was appointed Kapelhneisterto at the court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz at Sorau. Later, he also held appointments at Eisenach and Frankfurt, where he was city music director. It was during the Frankfurt period that he composed his first chamber music works, including the trios on this disc. He then took a position at Hamburg in 1721 as Cantor of the Johanneum and director of music for the five principal city churches, a job he held until his death in 1767.
In 1722, he was offered the cantorship of the St. Thomas School, Leipzig, which he declined.
Interestingly, the following year J.S. Bach applied and was appointed. (Bach and Telemann were good friends, and Telemann was godfather to Bach's second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel.)
The music on this disc has to be head to be believed. It is chamber music at its highest level, and the period-instrument ensemble is as polished and professional as one could imagine. The sound is equally superb, with near perfect soundstaging, depth, detail and spaciousness, and with a good mid-hall to close-up listening perspective. It is like the performers are sitting right out there in front of you. This is a demo disc by any two-channel audio standard.
It also responded extremely well to DSP ambience manipulations, and I got the best listening results on my main system using the Yamaha RX-Z1 receiver's classical/opera mode (with the center level backed off 3 dB from the standard setting). It also sounded superb on my middle system (both in straight stereo and with assorted DSP hall emendations applied), which is in a smaller room with the speakers somewhat closer together. Few discs I have listened to were as easy to listen to on two such very different audio systems.
Telemann, Georg Philipp: Recorder Concertos. The Parley of Instruments, Peter Holman and Roy Goodman, directors. Recorded in 1989; location not listed. Engineer: Tony Faulkner. 66+ minutes. Helios 55091. (Originally released as Hyperion 66413.)
Anyone who reads my record-review columns regularly will recall that I am a big fan of Telemann's music. For me, he is the equal of Bach when it comes to instrumental works like these. Actually, Telemann's life was more or less contemporary with the rise (and unfortunately the fall) of the Baroque recorder, and the composer was perhaps the most important German artist who created music for it.
The recorder has had an interesting history. The "Renaissance" version was carved out of a single piece of wood, with a cylindrical bore right through the middle. It came in several different sizes and was used largely as a consort instrument. That is, it was not favored for solo work. On the other hand, the "Baroque" recorder was a more advanced device. It was made up of several interlocking pieces of wood, had a conical bore, and produced a more refined sound. Like the Renaissance version, it also came in several different sizes and by the late 17th century it was widely played in northern Europe by both professional and amateur performers. Because of this, an enormous amount of music was written for it.
However, new-instrument technology was evolving rapidly. By the middle of the 18th century the recorder was losing ground to the flute (even though some performers still considered larger versions to be a decent alternative to the oboe), and by the end of the century only the smallest "flauto piccolo" version was getting much use. By the middle of the 19th century, the oboe and side-blown piccolo had replaced the recorder for modern music.
Anyway, I stumbled onto this disc while browsing at a Borders store. Even though it was recorded years ago, I felt that it rates a review, because it is essentially a "new" reissue from a Hyperion original. Also, it is an example of master-engineering work by Tony Faulkner. Faulkner has a degree in physics, with additional studies in music, and he has engineered over 2000 classical recordings for dozens of record labels, many of which are award winners and acknowledged to be technical masterpieces. This is one of those recordings.
The richness of this period-instrument ensemble has to be heard to be believed. The soundstage is quite wide, but the solo instrument was still tightly focussed in the phantom-center location, provided the listener confined himself to the sweet spot. This is to Faulkner's credit, because many wide-staged recordings have supposedly centered solo instruments sounding diffuse and vague. Unfortunately, on my middle system the phantom tended to shift around laterally a bit when listening from off axis, depending upon the frequencies involved. This is because the Dunlavy Cantatas, good as they are, cannot generate a perfectly flat direct-field response at off-axis locations. The artifact causes a slight amount of image shifting as centered-up solo instruments move up and down the musical scale.
The effect with this recording was a bit more apparent than usual, and even more apparent than what I have heard with a specialized test disc. On axis, they are superb, however, and I rather preferred the ensemble sound in that room to what I heard on my main system. On that system, with its widely spaced, wide-dispersing Allison IC-20 main speakers, the soundstaging tended to make the group sound a bit more widely spread out than I normally care for, particularly with two-channel stereo playback.
However, all bets were off when adding in some processor-generated, DSP surround enhancements. When they were applied with either system (Yamaha Classical/Opera on both systems and Dolby Pro Logic II with the main system) the result was as good as what I have heard from any 5-channel recordings. Indeed, the center steering made for better focus than what I have heard from numerous surround-sound recordings that fail to integrate a proper center feed into the mix. Although the center speaker in the middle system is located on top of a tallish RPTV monitor and has its center over a foot higher than the acoustic center of the flanking Cantata systems, the Classical/Opera mode was easily superior to any other I tried. Needless to say, it was substantially better than straight, two-channel stereo.
Whatever kind of listening system is involved, this is a superb recording that all Baroque-music enthusiasts should be hunting for, particularly at the low budget-label discount price.
Telemann, Georg Philipp: Chamber Concertos. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with Sara Cunningham, viola da gamba and Marion Verbruggen, recorder. Recorded in 1992, at Blackheath Concert Hall, London. Engineer: Tony Faulkner. 73+ minutes. Harmonia Mundi 907093.
This is another Faulkner-engineered special (transcribed a dozen years ago, but still available), and like the above recording it also exhibits a wide soundstage that will appeal to some listeners more than others. However, unlike the above release, in this case the wide spread up front worked very well for me, and it should work very well indeed on any system that does not have widely spaced stereo speakers. The sound is moderately close up, and so it should hit the mark with those who like to sit in the forward most rows of the concert hall. Some hall rumble intruded at times, but this would only be audible on systems that employed subwoofers that were at home reproducing really deep bass.
The various concert-hall modes available from my Yamaha processors worked OK with this material, although because of the way the phantom center works with those modes the solo instruments tended to sound a tad more inflated than some might like. On the other hand, with my main system the Yamaha Classical/Opera mode (with the center level backed off a few dB below the Dolby reference level) managed to sound a bit better from the sweet spot than the standard hall modes, and better than straight stereo, too. In addition, it also sounded considerably better when listening somewhat to the side of that location.
Dolby Pro Logic II (music), available with my main system, offered up the best blend of frontal and re-vectored reverb. Any upscale processor that offers this surround-enhancement option with two-channel material should be able to obtain surroundsound, concert-hall realism equal to or even superior to just about any five-channel recording. When I say "upscale processor," I mean one that offers the fine-tuning options that are potentially available with DPL II. The new DPL IIx version might be better yet, although not because of the center-back feed.
Telemann, Georg Philipp: Concertos and Chamber Music, Volume 2. Musica Alta Ripa. Recorded in 2003, at Schloss Nordkirchen. Engineer: Holger Schlegel. 62+ minutes. MD&G 309-1250.
Yep, another Telemann recording. What we have here is volume 2 of a two-part series, with this particular issue concentrating on five ensemble works that highlight the strings.
Purely string music and the groups that performed it (this release is not completely pure, with a recorder and bassoon included in one piece) developed in Italy about 1700 and was cultivated by composers like Tomaso Albinoni and Giuseppe Torelli. Vivaldi also wrote many string-only ensemble works, calling them concerti ripieni. Telemann was not about to be left out of this trend (he considered the violin to be his main instrument) and wrote several of his string-only compositions when he was kapellmeister at the court of Eisenach sometime between 1705 and 1710. The later Concerto in F major on this disc (the one with recorder and bassoon, as well as strings) was probably composed between 1716 and 1725. He was also responsible for allowing the cello equal status with the upper strings, and in the Sonata in D major on this disc, written about 1728, he allows some of the unique attributes of the instrument to be displayed.
MD&G is noted for its recording excellence, and this disc is no exception. The sound is superb, as is the performance of the ensemble. The soundstage is close up, detailed, and revealing, and there is ample hall spaciousness to highlight the instrumental textures. When recorded ambiance is done right it can make even two-channel material seem three dimensional, although these still cannot equal what we get when we include additional channels further out into the room to handle most of the recorded environmental sounds.
I recently did a small modification to my middle system: moving the Dunlavy Cantata main-channel systems six inches further apart. The change had a remarkable impact, considering the potential for insignificance, with the soundstage becoming more three-dimensional, while at the same time not suffering any serious losses in terms of center stability, at least with blended ensemble works. (See the Telemann Recorder Concertos review above for some comments about phantom-center artifacts with solo instruments, however, along with applied corrections.) The result with this disc was exceptional and in terms of two-channel playback the result was sound easily equal to what I got with my main system.
As usual, DSP ambiance simulation made good stereo sound even better. I found that the best results were obtained by using one of my Yamaha processor's the smaller Jazz/Club modes. This did not involve a derived and steered center feed, as do the Classical/Opera mode or the Dolby Pro Logic II function, and I know how some of you remember how much importance I assign to center-channel use. However, because centered-up solo-instrument focus was not an issue the resulting blend between the spread-out ensemble and the generated hall ambiance further out into the room was magnificent.
A good DVD-A release:
Grieg, Edvard: Piano Concerto in A minor; Concert Overture In Autumn; Symphonic Dances. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Bjarte Engeset; Havard Gimse, piano. Recorded in 2003, at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow. Engineer: Tim Handley. 71+ minutes. Naxos 5.110060.
In "serious" music circles, Grieg, who lived between 1843 and 1907, has long been considered the musical voice of Norway. In addition, during the country's struggle to become independent from Sweden his music was considered downright political, and he considered himself fortunate to live long enough to see his dream com true. Unfortunately, one-country nationalism may not be enough to sustain long-range interest in a composer's works, although, admittedly, it certainly worked for the Finnish nationalist Sibelius and the Russian Shostakovich. Consequently, Grieg's total opus, which in some cases shows an inability to maintain sustained thematic development, was never weighty enough to raise him to the artistic level of some of his contemporaries.
Indeed, it is interesting that like quite a number of other musicians (both classical and pop) his primary fame is the result of an initial "big hit," namely the concerto headlining this DVD-A release. Composed when he was only 25 years old, the work is an example of one of his prime Romantic mannerisms: a fragment of melody repeated in sequence on a higher degree of the scale as the music progresses. Unfortunately, some critics see this as nothing more than skillful use of mechanical repetition. In any case, while his other works, such as the Romantic era folk song Ein Traum and of course Peer Gynt, certainly are notable, the Piano Concerto remains his masterpiece.
This particular release is quite well recorded. The soundstaging is quite good (admittedly, the center feed is a combination of a discrete center channel and a phantom generated by the left and right channels), and the clarity and depth are equally good. The surround channels are used entirely for ambiance, and they do their jobs quite well. The sound has a close-up perspective, with the piano being maybe a tad closer up than what some listeners might like. Too close, at least if they want the soundstage to accurately mimic what one would encounter at a live performance where one would sit anywhere besides front and center within the first five rows. Some astute listeners will fully enjoy this soundstaging.
If the disc has any glaring technical problem it involves a persistent background rumble that often sounds like truck traffic. Indeed, when I was initially listening to it on my middle system I repeatedly kept getting up to see if oversized delivery trucks were pulling up in front of my house. (I was expecting a UPS delivery.) At least I did this until I checked out the cone-moving activities of my modified SVS subwoofer. Those without huge subwoofers will not have problems with this artifact, and fortunately the music does not require an audio system with ultra-deep-bass potential.
I listened to this release on both my main systems (the DVD-A tracks) and my middle system (the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks), and found that while the main system's room/speaker layout delivered better results, the middle one was still quite good. It did so, even though it has the center-channel speaker mounted higher up (on a large TV monitor) than I would normally like and a narrower angle between the main speakers. I also tried those DD and DTS tracks on the main system, and found nothing in particular that showed them to be sonically inferior to DVD-A.
Consequently (and happily), those with regular DVD players will get as much out of this disc as those with upscale DVD-A players. Indeed, they may get more, because as I have noted on many other occasions, in most home-listening situations bass and distance management are available with DD and DTS and are not available (at least yet) with most DVD-A players and processors. Ironically, my second system's processor/amp, a Yamaha DSP-A1 does have bass management with DVD-A inputs, but its standard DVD player is not able to play DVD-A tracks.
In any case, this is a fine performance and good recording of a work that probably defines Edvard Grieg and I definitely recommend it.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
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