Shen Lu, pianist: “Watercolor”

Watercolor_front cover

Shen Lu, Watercolor
Steinway & Sons CD 30039

I am very persnickety about piano recordings. Many piano recordings manage to leave me rather cold–both from a performance standpoint, and usually also from the sonic standpoint. Some of that I can trace to the facts that my early musical experiences were playing violin in student orchestras, and singing in school choruses.

Shaping a musical line and shading dynamics are existentially important in music. But the piano is unavoidably a percussion instrument.

Piano dynamics are a one-way street. Once you hit a note, it will die out as it will—there is no way to swell the sound once a note has started sounding on the piano. Whereas swelling a note is part of a singer’s stock in trade, and a violinist’s too.

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Au’voir, Cleopatra! You too, Nefertiti…

 

Natalie short hair blue background

Natalie Imbruglia (b. 1975) is a half-pint Italo-Aussie who embodies the Audrey Hepburn gamine/waif vibe. In 2004, Imbruglia was ranked sixth among the most naturally-beautiful women of all time, in a poll of beauty mavens such as model agents, fashion editors, and make-up artists.

No surprise, Audrey Hepburn ended up in first place. Cleopatra and Nefertiti (and the Queen of Sheba, as well) were conspicuous by their absence. Among the near-moderns, neither Lillie Langtry nor Maud Gonne made the cut. But, Liv Tyler did, soooo… it seems that there may have been a strong Recency Bias to the voting.

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Singing just doesn’t get better than this…

von otter good

I have chosen to kick off my Music-Video Fridays series with Anne Sophie von Otter, from her live-in-Paris 2004 DVD Voices of Our Time—a Tribute to Korngold. (A photo of Miss von Otter is the image on the home page “Featured Content” tile for Music-Video Fridays.)

The daughter of the Swedish diplomat Baron Göran Fredrik von Otter, Anne Sophie von Otter studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and made her début as Alcina in Haydn’s Orlando paladino in Basel in 1983.

In addition to her notable successes in the oratorio and opera music of Bach, Bartok, Elgar, Handel, Monteverdi, and Mozart, von Otter’s art-song repertory encompasses Brahms, Grieg, Korngold, Mahler, and Sibelius. In 1993, her Grieg song-recital CD (with Bengt Forsberg) became the first song recording ever to win Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Year” award. Were that not enough, she has also collaborated with Elvis Costello, and with Brad Mehldau.

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Speaking of Tannhäuser…

NelsonsWagnerCD

Wagner: Overture to Tannhäuser
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons
CD, Download, and MCH Download from BSO Classics
(Individual tracks also available)

They say that if you want to grow up to be good-looking, it helps to have good-looking parents. The same is often true in the case of talented musicians. Examples abound—both positive and negative.

For every childhood violinist or pianist who matures into a well-balanced, happy, and productive member of society, there seems to be at least another (if not more than one) whose high solo flight is followed by an Icarus-like plunge to earth. The line between parents who are loving sources of inspiration and “The Stage Parents From Hell” is not always easy to see. Imparting discipline is one thing; imposing tyranny is another.

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Clifford Brown: Clifford Brown With Strings

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Clifford Brown: Clifford Brown With Strings
CD Polygram 814 642-2

Clifford Brown—trumpet; Richie Powell—piano; Max Roach—drums; George Morrow—double bass; Barry Galbraith—guitar; Neal Hefti—arranger, conductor. Recorded New York, 1955.

J.S. Bach played the organ and the harpsichord; Beethoven played the piano. Therefore, Louis Armstrong (NB: nearly everything on this blog is “IMHO”) holds the distinction of being the only person to have revolutionized Western instrumental music while playing an instrument capable of sounding only one note at a time. Jazz historian Stanley Crouch claimed that one of Armstrong’s most important early musical influences was listening to phonograph records by Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso. How’s that for musical cross-pollination made possible by technology?

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Say “Saluton!” to Esperanto Audio

 

Blue 2

 

The primary reason for the slow roll-out of The Tannhäuser Gate has been that I have been slaving away at my new enterprise, Esperanto Audio.

Esperanto Audio has launched its first product, the Esperanto Audio “Small Batch” S/PDIF digital-audio cable “Blue.” The Blue cable is available with RCA terminations, BNC terminations, or BNC terminations with RCA adapters, if you wish. The Blue cable comes in a re-usable zip-up padded nylon stuff sack made for me by Porta-Brace in Vermont.

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A fantastic little stereo system! (Part 1)

FeidnerSystemAtSteinway

(Photo of Eric Feidner at Steinway & Sons’ NYC Global headquarters by and courtesy of Wes Bender Studios.
I totally love the way Eric’s and Mr. Rubinstein’s legs are the mirror images of each other!
Way to go, Wes! And, what an amazingly clean desk Eric has!)

I derive immense pleasure from setting people up with (relatively) affordable stereo systems that work as systems, and are not just a bunch of random components selected from “Best-Of” lists. An early effort in that line was the series of columns I wrote for The Absolute Sound magazine entitled “A Stereo for Mr. Stevens.” Mr. Stevens being Wallace Stevens, because music and sound were such important parts of his poetry. I had no evidence that Wallace Stevens (who died in 1955) was an early adopter of hi-fi; but, I wasn’t about to let that stop me.

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What Are the Rules?

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(Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, Massachusetts. Photo by Robert Benson Photography)

The Tannhäuser Gate is my personal blog. This is not a group effort, and I am not going to make any pretense of objectivity. Subjectivity reigns. I am not going to make any effort to cover the entire waterfront, either of audio equipment or recordings. I don’t see the point in telling you that the umpteenth new Debussy La Mer recording didn’t really grab me. As Emerson wrote:

Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.

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Why name your blog “The Tannhäuser Gate”?

building top

“The Tannhäuser Gate” is a throwaway reference from near the end of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. “Tannhäuser” is a reference to Wagner’s opera dramatizing the life of the Medieval German singer of that name.

Blade Runner and Wagner—what’s not to like?

I think that Blade Runner is the greatest science-fiction movie of all time. I think that, because it creates a completely believable future world that is arrestingly foreign, but hauntingly familiar. At the same time, the story almost subliminally makes us uncomfortable about our collective past. Obviously, book author Philip K. Dick tapped into deep historical and cultural currents involving not only what it means to be human, but also, “how then should we live”—in the sense of act or behave. Ironically, in the end, it is a non-human who behaves heroically.

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Why start a blog?

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(Graphic courtesy of Stereophile magazine.)

It’s simple, really.

I love music and I love audio gear. I have been blessed in the teachers, mentors, inspirations, and friends I have had in music and in audio engineering. I love sharing my love of music, and I love helping people discover music that is new to them. I also love giving advice on cost-effective audio equipment!

I am a true believer in the value of culture. I believe that the riches of culture are not just for the economically rich. On a deeper level, while it is a commonplace to state that someone views audio equipment as only a means to an end, the end being music, I view music not just as an end in itself, but equally as a means of engendering spiritual growth in the people who hear it.

And I am not just referring to Gregorian Chant or Mahler. Really encountering Porgy & Bess or A Love Supreme—in their full contexts—can also engender spiritual growth. Don’t worry, I also listen to music just for fun.

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