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Ad Illam - Jewels in Pure DSD256 from Susan Gómez Vázquez and Eudora

05-10-2022 | By Rushton Paul | Issue 121

With delicate precision, Susana Gómez Vázquez illuminates these piano pieces with a scintillating beauty, each carefully shaped and presented like jewels on velvet cushions. Both the performances and the recorded sound quality, in Pure DSD256, are a treasure.

Ad Illam - Music of Chopin, Piazzolla, Ginastera for Piano, Susana Gómez Vázquez. Eudora Records 2021 (Pure DSD256) HERE

illam (Latin)
accusative feminine singular of ille

The best introduction to this album is that from Susan Gómez Vázquez herself, "Most of the pieces included in Ad Illam ("For Her")—from timeless preludes to lullabies and a sonata—are either dedicated to or written by women, and together they help us explore the different facets of the feminine personality. With their tonal and formal connections, these musical gems portray the woman as companion and muse (the preludes by Chopin and Ravel), mother (the lullabies by Chopin and Demestres), teacher (Nadia Boulanger), role model (Lili Boulanger), sensual being (Piazzolla’s preludes) and, finally, liberated individual (the works by Gómez and Ginastera)."

Opening with Ravel's crystalline Prelude M.65 at a bit under 1.5 minutes, the album moves to five preludes from Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28, most under 2 minutes each, and then gradually into slightly longer pieces from sisters Lili and Nadia Boulanger, Alberto García Demestres, Astor Piazzola and Alberto Ginistera.

Framed by Piazzolla's 3 Preludes and Ginastera's Piano Sonata No. 1 is Vázquez' own composition, Ella, which, with very quiet opening rising into dissonance and a thunderous salvo before achieving a tenuous balance punctuated by deeply resonate pounding bass chords, "gives voice, like the other works on this album, to those extremes of emotion we all feel, men and women, but are often too afraid to show." - Susana Gómez Vázquez. It is an evocative and memorable composition.

Susana Gómez Vázquez performs with assurance, precision, power, and utterly conviction. At the one hand, she is delicate, softly evocative. Then, alternately, commandingly in control with drive and power. All as required to communicate the music and her interpretation of its meaning. She has a perspective, a point of view, about the works she has programmed for this album—they combine to tell the story she has chosen to convey. And she, and they, do so powerfully.

This is not an album to be taken lightly. This is not background music to play mindlessly as one pursues other activities. No, this is an album that shares with us something special from the mind, spirit and soul of our performer who has chosen to open herself to us in this most vulnerable manner. I feel privileged to listen.

Recording engineer Gonzalo Noqué has yet again given us a recording of piano that is most exquisite. There is magic to his touch when it comes to recording piano. Captured in DSD256 directly from the microphones, this recording is a very pure and direct capture of the sound of a beautiful Steinway & Sons grand piano. As you can see in the photo, Gonzalo places his microphones somewhat back from the piano rather than directly into the piano body as might some other recording engineers. To my ears, the result is a sweeter, more open sound that captures more of the overall ambiance of the room while still preserving all of the transients impact of the piano. 

Recorded in the Auditorio de Zaragoza, Sala Mozart, Zaragoza, Spain, Gonzalo confirms my suspicion that these tracks are captured in long takes with minimal editing and certainly no mixing. Each channel is fed from a single microphone.

Editing was accomplished via the Pyramix digital audio workstation and I asked Gonzalo via an email to explain how this works without resampling the data file to PCM/DXD. He replied:

"The Pyramix workstation does not convert to DXD when DSD rendering a DSD edited project. The processing remains DSD. Even the crossfades now stay in the DSD realm (since at least v. 12). It is only when you create a final file that you have two options: either you go the DSD render route (no DXD processing) or you do a DXD mixdown (converted to DXD and back to DSD if you want to). I go the DSD render route to create a DSD256 edit master. Tom Caulfield at NativeDSD then uses that DSD256 edit master to create the other sample rates DSD files (64, 128, and 512) which NativeDSD makes available. He does this using Signalyst HQ Player 4 Pro mastering tools to stay entirely within the DSD domain for all the DSD sample rates."

Susana Gómez Vázquez (b. 1995) has maintained an active schedule of concerts all over Europe and Latin America since her debut in 2006 at the National Auditorium of Music in Spain. She has achieved first prizes in a broad array of competitions, including the Concurso de Juventudes Musicales de España, the Concurso Internacional Ciutat de Carlet, the Iris Dyer competition of the Royal Academy of Music, the Freddy Morgan and Wigmore Hall competitions (soloist and chamber music), EMCY prize, the Maud Hornsby Award and the Franz Reizenstein Prize of the Royal Academy of Music, and, most recently, first prize at the Colburn International virtual piano seminar 2020. To say that she is on a rapidly rising trajectory as a recognized pianist is an understatement. 

This album on Eudora is her debut album and I highly recommend it to you. I am now hoping for many more in the future.

Images courtesy of Eudora Records.