Wilson, MSB, & Esperanto Audio @ Fidelis Music Systems, New Hampshire

untitled-1007788Photo by Peter McGrath, MFA

My colleague Mike Zisserson has already written up this event for Positive Feedback Online. Therefore, my coverage will be a bit broad-brush.

This open house took place Saturday afternoon December 3, at Fidelis Music Systems‘ Nashua NH store. While the featured brands were Wilson Audio Specialties and MSB Technology, I was tickled that Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath had brought along two of my Esperanto Audio digital cables, one for the S/PDIF signal, and the other for the Word Clock connection. More, and more photos, after the jump.

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Wise Men From the East, Bearing Gifts! (Part 1)

web-grabLetterpress art print © and courtesy of Zeichen Press.

The Gospel narrative doesn’t say that the number of wise men (or astrologers) from the East was three; that’s just an inference based upon the report that the Magis (however many of them there were) brought three gifts of gold, Frankincense, and myrrh.

Be that as it may, what has come down is a piously embellished story of three wise men, complete with names and capsule biographies.

So, to start my suggestions for Christmas (or other seasonal) gift-giving, here are three gifts: two boxed sets and one single recording, all of especial musical and sonic merit.

Details and sound samples after the jump! Continue Reading →

Gilad Hekselman: J.S. Bach, Invention No. 4

Hmm, I seem to be in a bit of a Bach groove, with my last couple of Music-Video Friday posts (here, and here).

From far out in left field, or at least, from NYC, here’s Israeli jazz-guitar virtuoso Gilad Hekselman, playing what appears to be a free transcription of J.S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention No. 4, BWV 775, in the violinistic key of D-minor. I say free transcription, because I think that, having to play both parts with only open strings or the frets reachable from one position at a time, he did not have available two extra fingers to play the long trill you might remember from the legendary Glenn Gould piano recording. I particularly like his non-frenetic tempo, and restrained dynamics. Gilad Hekselman‘s website is here.

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Christmas Music (Part 3): Arturo Delmoni & Friends “A String Quartet Christmas”

 

034062500017A String Quartet Christmas
Arturo Delmoni & Friends
Steinway & Sons Recordings 3-CD set 50001

(All volumes produced by John Marks and mastered by Bob Ludwig. Volume One recorded 1995 by David Hancock at the Church of the Holy Trinity, NYC; Volumes Two and Three recorded by Jerry Bruck at the Recital Hall of the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music in 1997 and Riverside Church NYC in 1998, respectively.)

I produced the three volumes that make up this set for my own micro-boutique/audiophile label John Marks Records, commonly known as JMR. The idea was to present traditional and sacred Christmas music in straightforward, un-gimmicky arrangements, recorded in orthodox stereo (so to speak) in an acoustically-appropriate space. In the case of Volume One, that was New York City’s Holy Trinity Church, a photo of which can be found after the jump, along with sound samples. Continue Reading →

Christmas Music (Part 2): “Christmas Night,” The Cambridge Singers

christmas-night-cd-cover

Christmas Night – Carols Of The Nativity
The Cambridge Singers and the City of London Sinfonia,
conducted by John Rutter.
Collegium CD 106 or download

(Recorded January 1987 by the BBC Transcription Unit in the Great Hall of University College School, London. Jillian White, producer; Campbell Hughes, engineer.)

A few years back, my friends at Steinway & Sons asked me to write about a favorite Christmas album for their music and culture magazine Listen.

Here’s what I wrote then, and I still feel the same way:

I received this recording as a Christmas present from violinist Arturo Delmoni. It quickly became an all-time family favorite, not only for its world-class singing and vocal ensemble (a young Mark Padmore is in the tenor section) but most of all for its consistently tranquil and gently enveloping sound-world—just like a lullaby, except more varied and musically interesting. (Arturo Delmoni, of course, knows something about Christmas music, in that he led the string quartet in the three Rejoice! A String-Quartet Christmas projects.)

More comments, and sound samples, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Christmas Music (Part 1): Nat King Cole, “Christmas Favorites”

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Velvet-voiced pop and jazz tenor Mel Tormé (1925-1999) and songwriter Bob Wells wrote “The Christmas Song” in less than an hour, one sweltering day during the summer of 1945. Tormé wrote the music, and collaborated on the lyrics. (That Tormé’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia did not stop Tormé from writing what is generally regarded as the most popular and beloved English-language Christmas song of the pop-music era.) Tormé had been a child-prodigy singer and drummer; he was also a composer and arranger.

Though revered as an interpreter of Great American Songbook songs, Tormé’s musical worldview included deep respect for classical composers Frederick Delius and Percy Grainger (talk about strange musical bedfellows). Rock and roll, he liked not so much. Tormé’s essential musical conservatism endeared him to Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. (And if anyone out there needs a Media Studies, American Studies, or Musicology research topic, I nominate Hugh Hefner’s role in keeping jazz on life support in the US during the ascendancy of rock music.)

Nat King Cole sound samples (some not so obvious) and more pensiveness, after the jump. Continue Reading →

David Leisner: J.S. Bach, Chaconne from solo-violin Partita No. 2 in d

My most recent Music-Video Friday feature was Hélène Grimaud’s live performance of Busoni’s Chaconne for Piano in D minor (after J.S. Bach). I expect no argument when I say that that piece was as much about Busoni as it was about Bach; and further, that Ms. Grimaud’s scintillating performance was more at home in the musical world of the Europe of 1890, than of 1720.

I last covered a David Leisner recording here (a program with cellist Zuill Bailey). David Leisner is a magnificent guitarist, as well as a composer of great feeling and integrity.

#Humblebrag: I played a large role in the production of the première recording (for a label other than JMR) of Leisner’s Sonata for Violin and Guitar, including suggesting a transcription of a Handel sonata for violin and keyboard as the opening piece, and writing the liner notes. I was tickled for us all when Stereophile magazine (this predated my employment there) designated that recording as a Recording of the Month. Continue Reading →

Trondheim Soloists: Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, etc.

2l125-400ph

Trondheim Solistene: Reflections
(Music of Britten, Vaughan Williams, and Stravinsky)
SACD/CD +Blu-ray 2-disc set, 2L 125
CDQ; high-resolution stereo including MQA and DSD; and surround-sound downloads available from www.2L.no
Streaming available from various services linked to here.

Recorded June and August 2015, Selbu Church, Norway. Recording producer and balance engineer Morten Lindberg; recording technician Beatrice Johannessen.

Certain pieces of music just catch the ear. Some of those pieces even enter into the collective repository of culture—they become part of the sonic landscape (or the musical memories) of nearly everybody’s life.

A prime candidate for the title of “The Most Well-Known Piece of ‘Classical’ Music That Was Not Composed by Vivaldi, Beethoven, or Gershwin” is Samuel Barber’s Adagio, in its string-orchestra version. Barber’s Adagio for Strings combines striving with yearning (and grief with resignation) in a completely arresting and inescapably memorable way.

Most music lovers don’t realize that the version they know so well is a transcription—that the “Adagio” of movie and pop-culture renown started out life as the slow movement of Barber’s Op. 11 string quartet.

The point of this blog entry then, is to tell as many people as possible that if you love Barber’s Adagio, you will love Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The Tallis Fantasia has the same sweeping grandeur and emotional intensity as Barber’s Adagio, but I think it is even more rewarding to engage with over repeated hearings.

More background, a making-of video, and sound bytes, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Rega Research Ltd. Planar 3 Turntable Package

2016-10-19-p3-bb-cropped-400-phPhoto by John Marks; Berlin the Bear not included.

This is the second installment in a series about choosing Pareto-Optimal equipment to make digital archival copies of vinyl LP (long-playing) phonograph records. The first part is here. But even if you are not planning on making digital transfers, you might be interested in my advice on turntables and phono stages.

The turntable system (by which I mean the turntable itself; the tone arm; and the phono cartridge) is both the beginning of the playback process and, by the nature of things, the most critical bottleneck.

After the jump, more on that; and, well-deserved words of praise for Rega’s Planar 3. Continue Reading →

Hélène Grimaud: Busoni, Chaconne for Piano in D minor (after J.S. Bach)

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a series of six works for solo violin. Three are sonatas. “Sonata” is a technical term that in its largest sense simply means a piece of music meant to be played rather than sung. The other three solo-violin works are partitas, which means that they are made up of parts or movements, usually dance forms.

Bach’s second solo-violin partita’s final movement, a set of variations on a bass line called a Chaconne, is as long as the other four put together. Early on, Bach’s solo-violin Chaconne took on a life of its own, both for being played (at times) without the other four movements, and in various transcriptions and arrangements.

Arrangements or transcriptions exist for orchestra, piano, organ, guitar, cello, and saxophone quartet. Ferruccio Busoni‘s version really amounts to a major re-working of the piece in an overheated fin-de-siècle keyboard-virtuoso aesthetic. The good news is that the architectural structure of the solo-violin piece is substantial enough and resilient enough that the result is musically valid—at least for most of us.

Here’s high-energy Hélène Grimaud in an electrifying live version. To cite just one example, the arpeggio variation that starts at about 6:04 is a marvel of precision and clarity. Arkivmusic.com lists recordings by 36 pianists. So if Ms. Grimaud is a bit too out there for you, there are lots of choices. If I had to choose one and only one, it would be one of Shura Cherkassky’s: either the historical EMI one (circa 1956), or the autumnal Nimbus one (1987).

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