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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 1
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Sunier on Hi-Res

(John Sunier, long-time audiophile journalist and reviewer, has been a member of the Positive Feedback community for ten years. As editor of Audiophile Audition (www.audaud.com) and an "Editor of the Round Table," John will be contributing to PF Online by allowing the use of his hi-res audio reviews. Here are his first contributions; you can find more at his site.)

 

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John Williams, The Magic Box
(with Paul Clarvis, hand drums, etc.; John Etheridge, acoustic steel guitar; Richard Harvey, flutes, whistles, etc.; Chris Laurence, double bass; guests: Francis Beby & Samza, vocalists; African Children's Choir).
Sony Classical SACD SS 89483

John Williams, Yo Yo Ma, and the Kronos Quartet all brought out world-music-oriented albums this month. Williams focuses on music involving the guitar in Africa. He points out that the history of the guitar is different there than in South America. In Africa there already were many plucked string instruments, so the population fully embraced the guitar, whereas South America had none. Among the instruments on the fifteen tracks are thumb piano, sanza, requinto guitar, balafon, bongos, tumba, accordion, Indian harmonium, tiple, djembe, Malagasy flute, panpipes, dulcimer, and the most complex and beautiful-sounding stringed instrument, the kora. Several of the tracks feature two guitars, but the title tune is for solo guitar. Williams reports that the process of learning and performing this music often tested the limits of Western ideas of notation and rhythm. The clarity and improved soundstaging of the stereo SACD aids immensely in singling out and identifying the sounds and locations of the exotic African instruments.

 

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Vaughn Williams, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Flos Campi, Five Variants of "Dives and Lazarus," Fantasia on Greensleeves , Sally P. Lentz, viola, Utah Symphony Orchestra & University of Utah Chamber Choir, Maurice Abravanel.
Vanguard Classics SACD VSD 505

Some of the loveliest English music, all on one disc. Vaughn William's very British brand of Impressionism comes to the fore in these smaller works (vs. his great symphonies). The composer had a special affinity for string orchestra, featured in most of these works. The six-movement Flos Campi uses a solo viola and a wordless choir for a delightful, evocative feeling. Vanguard's president, Seymour Solomon, mentions in the notes that some of these mid-60s tapes were three channel and others two, but that he decided to mix all of them to standard two-channel stereo to avoid the center channel going in and out, causing some users to think the disc was faulty. I couldn't tell which were which on speaker playback, but perhaps the next time I listen to this I'll use headphones and will notice the enhanced center image from the three-channel masters.

 

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Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 3; Scriabin, Etudes; Liu Yang River , Lang Lang, piano, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Yuri Temirkanov.
Telarc multichannel SACD-60582

Telarc announces this to be the first complete piano concerto recording released in multichannel SACD. It was recorded live at a Proms concert in Royal Albert Hall, London. Not only does this multichannel recording capture the staging of the piano in front of the orchestra, but also the almost overpowering audience applause at the end of the concerto, well deserved as it is. Chinese pianist Lang Lang burst on the scene in 1999 when he filled in for an ailing Andre Watts. He is only 19, and is already playing regularly with the world's major orchestras. This is an electrifying performance, of the perfect one of the four Rachmaninoff piano concertos with which to excite an audience. Some of the rapid-fire scalar passages seem almost inhuman. The pianist performed the ten Scriabin Etudes in a concert at Oberlin College, and opened and closed the set with my personal favorites, Op. 2, No. 1 in C-sharp Minor and Op. 65, No. 3 in G Major. Hearing the solo piano in multichannel surround reminds me of the hesitation many record labels had, early in the stereo era, to record the piano in stereo. Two-channel reproduction added immensely to the realism of piano recordings (as long as misguided micing didn't result in a 40-foot-wide piano); the same now goes for multichannel surround.

 

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Bach, Keyboard Concertos Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7, Murray Perahia, piano and conductor, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
Sony Classical SACD SS 89690

Normally I'm partial to Bach concertos performed on the harpsichord rather than the piano, but Perahia is such a fine interpreter that I found this quartet of concertos a pleasure, especially in the crystalline sonics of stereo SACD. The works were recorded at the Air Studios in London, and everything is balanced to perfection. All the keyboard concertos are Bach borrowing from Bach—they existed as different instrumental works earlier, and were adapted for keyboard and orchestra due to different needs during his stint in Leipzig. No. 6 in F Major, for example, will bring to mind the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major.

Stereo SACDs such as this (and the stereo mix on the Lang Lang disc) seem to resolve a more solid center-stage image of the solo instrument than most standard CDs. To my mind, there's now even less reason for the center channel, which can be employed, along with the for-movies-only LFE channel, to provide side/height-oriented channels that are far more appropriate to music reproduction in surround. Sony is now putting their stereo SACDs in slide-on plastic covers which not only clearly designate the discs as stereo instead of multichannel, but also (on the backs) warn that they are designed for SACD players only—meaning they are not hybrid discs as offered by nearly all the other record labels, but then the price was recently reduced to be closer to that of standard CDs vs. the hybrid discs.

 

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