12 November, 2021

Capital Audio Festival 2021

pic from Stereophile.

Stereophile's Report on Capital Audio Festival 2021  

Ken Micallef's Report

This is a brief posting alerting you to one of the first Audio Shows around these days. It is, as usual, well written by Ken Micallef. From his musician audiophile series, I know he has a youtube channel, and you may want to search there for some videos (I rarely use VPN to surf youtube here in China, so I'd not know)!

I have never been to this show, even if I have relatives in D.C! Have always wanted to go, and then covid hit. But I have read all the reports, and Stereophile has always done a great job with this one. It seems to me the Show is changing a bit, with more upscale stuff and less bargains. I hope that's not a permanent trend. As an example, I probably know why VK Music, a regular at the show, is not there this year. During these stressful times, it can be a combination of logistics and personal factors.

The borrowed pic shows a horn with field coil driver that took 240 hours to make. It is not cheap, but if you ask me, much more deserving of its price than the many machined and assembly line manufactured loudspeakers. Still, no, I'll stick with much cheaper horns...

I was surprised by the many Linear Array Loudspeakers (all very expensive). Given that my NYC friends who whole-heartedly embrace classic Infinity's and I have heard them to great effect, I am pleased.

I cannot help but notice that Ken mentioned some manufacturers refrained due to mask mandate. As a physician and a civically minded individual, I can only sigh. Yes, if this covid thing drags on (likely) it will polarize even the audio world! You have heard me. I was entertained also when I read that Ken was asked to remove his mask among friends who all have been vaccinated to share cocktails. Wonderful, but this also illustrates the tenuousness of "post-covid" (we're not quite there) contact. I personally regard wearing a mask as respect for others. Here in Shenzhen, we have currently no cases. When I am on the street I wear no mask, but when I enter a mall or shop I don one as a courtesy.

Anecdote: I have a personal connection to this Show. I have exchanged emails and spoken with Victor of VK Music many times, but to this date I have never met him. My friend Richard C, whose system and endeavors have been featured in this blog, who is an essential worker in NYC, went  to the 2019 show and met VK and took back an Elekit amp for me to play with (still, many thanks). Forward to 2020, a reviewer for a trade magazine encountered a minor hiccup in the system. After a barrage of phone calls, Richard C knew a technician nearby and helped solved the problem in no time. Rescues off the scene! Bravo, audiophiles

07 November, 2021

Books in China

Trenchant scene from Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. Click pics to enlarge.

Letter from Shenzhen (21-16): How I Live, Part II, Books

"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-etre hier, je ne sais pas...". I learned this at my third term French at Brooklyn College. I shall never forget it. To this day, I have a special fondness for Camus.

In previous episodes, I drew a crude sketch of the environment “I find myself in”, often examining myself in the mode of an “expat”. Just as Americans, and increasingly Europeans and many peoples around the world, who find the more they ask who they are, the more questions they have and the more they revolt against the status quo, it is the same for many people of Chinese origin, who are often not from “China”. It is also clear (to me) that the more we distinguish ourselves, the more we create subdivisions, the more fractious and unstable the world becomes.

A methodical expose of one’s current life is not possible. After contemplating writing more about basic amenities (its quirks here are actually interesting), which is honestly a bit of a chore, I chose to skip this time and touch upon a little a more ephemeral topic, some sort of spiritual fulfillment, which governs my routines.

The Power of Music
There are a lot of things that I miss. It is one thing to not have seen a bagel for a year, it's another of a completely different magnitude to endure being bereft of my substantial audio and LP collections (in NYC). Although I am satisfied with my humble systems here, I know there is a divide. But as I write, I'm listening to Bruckner (Hrusa, Bamberg, Accentus; loud, there is no other way) and I remain totally entranced by the master's music. Readers who have gone along with me during these covid times would know even in NYC I mostly streamed music on smaller systems than went through the ritual of FMJ on the big rig. So, in that respect, being in China is not that much different. Classical music as spiritual fulfillment (at least at home) is not a problem here at all (other genres too, as you wish). I can have, at will, as I prefer, Bach in the morning, Brahms or Bruckner when the light dims. Note: it is important that one finds one's own path; music knows no borders and is a life-long companion and spiritual nourishment. However, the average audiophile may be the last to know.

Of course, I’d prefer to listen to live music, and I have a few times here, chronicled in my companion blog. Problem is, given the super-strict protocols here, these seem to have disappeared recently. My favorite local orchestra, Shenzhen Symphony, has basically used their limited slots to support national and local interests, like concerts for young and emerging composers, which I both support but would not attend. Not much chance to hear Bruckner and whatever. But I also notice that in NYC concerts are happening at full capacity. Should I be in NYC, would I attend? I wonder, but personally I’d hesitate, as I cannot be assured of the vaccination status of everyone else (of course I am vaccinated), and we all know enforcement is difficult, even perilous. The brave new world...

Having less audio means more time for other things and that means I read more now. Given that this is China and that even in translation I prefer to read in English, finding the right books to read can be challenging, but it can be done.

The Library
As the libraries here are mostly open (QR Health Code always needed; with only occasional closings or capacity restrictions), I have resumed my habit of going regularly (true for my time in pre-pandemic Hong Kong and NYC).

In a way, the library is the most cosmopolitan, and international, place on earth, where one can read about all sorts of things. Would you not be curious what a library (or a bookshop) in a communist country looks like? Here's the gist:

Local Authors and Publications Books are of course in Chinese. Unlike the West, where publishing (aside from university presses) is controlled by a few international mega firms, China has a huge number of publishers, and each province (and many cities) has its own (sometimes several). Mind you, we exclude digital platforms here. Of course, given the government censorship, variety and true ingenuity, not to mention penetrating analysis and satire, are limited. One will not find any account of June 4th, 1989, nor will one find non-official-sanctioned biographies of government figures, even party idols. As monopolistic politics pervades everyday life, self-censorship takes a toll on creativity. Non wonder many innately talented political writers “choose” to take to analyzing ancient dynasties, particularly the Ming, when China was particularly prosperous. These historical reconstructions are ubiquitous, but perhaps they serve as a commentary on how writers circumvent censorship - if they cannot freely speak about the now, they can do more with the past. Overall, I’d say the quality of offerings, particularly in more strait-jacketed non-fiction, is a rung down from the best in the West. One other thing that I find utterly frustrating is the utter lack in English citation in things as simple as proper names, be it a city or a park. Let’s face it, English is a world language; at least its alphabets are familiar to everyone. Chinese pinyin word input uses alphabets and are universally taught, and that is why I learnt it and use it to write Chinese. Here in China, even the almost illiterate knows some alphabets. So it’s doubly frustrating to read in an otherwise fine article in a Chinese magazine only the Chinese transliteration for proper names. In most cases, I can re-construct it, but it can be exasperating sometimes, especially when it comes to Greek Gods (often seen in school texts) and exotic little towns mentioned in travel mags (given the rise of middle class, a thriving sector) that one wants to know about.

Books in Translation Ever since the toppling of the last Qing dynasty, in 1911, translations of western books have never ceased. You will be shocked how many books in translation are available in the local library. A great number of authors, past and recent, of many nationalities, from Updike to Cheever to Oates, from Unamuno to Borges to Marquez, from Edna O’Brien to Ichiguro, to the many rather obscure Nobel laureates, are all available. I don’t usually choose to read these translations, which BTW are officially sanctioned. Even more amazing are the sheer number of “Classics”. In the USA, Romain Rolland’s Jean Christophe, modeled after Beethoven, is long oop. But in China, it has always remained in print in an ancient translation by Fou Lei, father of renowned pianist Fou T’song (who recently passed of covid in UK). I have a personal relationship to this work. In my youth, during the summer vacation, all the desirable books had been borrowed from the Hong Kong library. I was left with “classic” literature, foreign and Chinese (yes, they were not popular even then) and so I checked out Jean Christoph. Forward 10 years, in NYC’s great Strand bookshop, I chanced upon an oop Vantage paperback 3-volume edition, and I still have it. Needless to say, even the local Queens library does not have it and I still haven’t been able to finish it even having 2 chances. There are also tons of books by almost forgotten authors, like Somerset Maugham, which are likely not available in the average US library. Fiction books in translation seem to have as a safe haven, as it should be. I discovered the beautiful book Memoires de la rose, by Consuelo de Saint-Exupery, wife of one of my favorite writers, her famous husband Antoine (translated from the French). I read all the marvelous books of Marjane Satrapi (whom film buffs will know from her most famous work, Persepolis, made into an animated film; one scene above), with all the dialogues in Chinese!

Books in English The branch libraries have some bilingual children’s books. My local branch has no English books for adults, but does have the magazines National Geographic and, surprisingly, Time. Um, sorry, no New Yorker. The district Central Library has several racks of English books, a Hodge-podge of old classics and various trade books. This was where I got my Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. If I have the determination, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past is available.

Book Cities Aside from the library, there are 2 mega book cities near me. Each offer a whole lot of books (see pics below). I often browse for what I’d like to read, then borrow from the library.

One rack from the district Central Library's English Book Collection. I highly recommend
this book by obscure Emma Reyes, which I have read before.

If you haven't read the deadly serious, indeed "deadly" period, "comics"
 of Marjane Stratapi, you must. 

A lousy draft at the local Pizza Hut, reading Murakami's Killing Commendatore.

My Local Library. The Chinese magazine is one of my favorite for years.

A notice that a page from the Time magazine had been removed due to violations. 

Pics of the Local mega Bookseller Book City.

Books in translation: Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe.
Albert Camus' L'etranger, La Peste and a lot more.

28 September, 2021

Teodor Currentzis Conducting HiFi

Click pics to enlarge.

Letter from Shenzhen (21-15): Conducting Hi-Fi
Streaming Classical (21-5): Teodor Currentzis

Revised 9/29/21: Minor corrections. And, article in question identified with help of reader.

Most musicians don't go to great lengths for music reproduction. Indeed, many sneer at audiophiles (they are right in most instances). Classical musicians, especially those who primarily play in orchestras, should be the most skeptical as, frankly, most audio systems fail miserably in simulating the full orchestra. Jazz is much easier to reproduce, which is likely why we find many jazz (and pop) musicians, such as those profiled by Ken Micallef in his excellent Stereophile and Youtube series, with decent systems. Another reason is these musicians are likely to be much more in contact and in sympathy with amplification and technology in their various routines.

Classical musicians, especially conductors, spend a huge amount of time studying the scores, which cannot be aided electronically. Unlike instrumentalists, who can work out the score on their instruments, the conductor has to use his imagination on how to combine the myriad strands and, of course, sometimes listen to how others do it (maybe).

I am not aware of any report on conductors with "high-end" systems (if you know some, give us a shout). But, yesterday, in resurrecting a phone I had not used for months, I discovered in it a snapshot of a magazine page (above), which I must have taken in Hong Kong late last year. I must have wanted to write about it, but now I have no recollection (maybe I was intoxicated but, hey, my hands were not shaking when I took the pic!) ! By its looks I had  guessed it was a page from Grammophone and I thank reader Harald for confirming it (full article link here).

Teodor Currentzis is a star. He is director of the MusicaAeterna Orchestra in Perm, Russia, a Siberian city known for its culture (after St Petersburg and Moscow). He has single-handedly put this orchestra on the map with his "sensational" recordings (Sony mostly, with a few on Alpha). You should stream a few of them. Try first the Stravinsky (my first encounter with him, and recommended in this blog; what marvelous cover art!), Mahler and Tchaikovsky (followed by Beethoven 5th). Now, this is a conductor who micro-manages everything, including the recording. Not everyone will take to him or the sound. I follow him, though I may not like everything he does. In a way, he can be compared to Khatia Buniatishvili on the piano, but I can still follow his whims in ways that I could not for the latter.

It's astonishing that the article says he has six hi-fi setups!!!!!! The speakers listed include Tannoy Westminster, Wilson, B and W, Focal. He swears by ANUK amps and cables, and would love to get Western Electric. Holy! He should bring his formidable orchestra to HK and I'll make sure my friends arrange demonstrations of WE for him.

By extrapolation, you can see where his sympathies lie. Tubes in general and ANUK would not be a good match for Wilson, B and W and Focal. So, we know he likely likes high-efficiency loudspeakers, like Tannoy. I predict he will eventually get into horns.

The article also reveals him as a tinkerer. He obviously thinks a lot of time should be spent on post-production. I am sure he'd love to spend days equalizing the multiple feeds of the recording. This is a conductor who not only conducts on the podium, but also at the console (he'd not be the only one; early on, Stokowski took greatest interest in this area too).

We catch more hints of Currentzis' ways in JVS' review of Tchaikovsky Pathetique in Stereophile: "...(in the booklet) Currentzis extends his thanks...to Peter Qvortrup and Audio Note UK Ltd. I don't know any details, but it's possible Audio Note had something to do with the huge amount of air that surrounds the remarkably three-dimensional, studio-recorded orchestra, as well as the notably strong bass foundation that underscores Currentzis' understanding of Tchaikovsky's intent. You can hear every musical gesture and, when the going gets especially intense, some of the conductor's breathing..."

JVS waxes lyrics about the "devastating" impact of the account. While I agree it is very hifi, even intense and worth hearing, I am not so sure it is all geared towards emotional connection. The comments are interesting as many readers and colleague Kal Rubinson posted. Personally, regarding the music, I am glad I heard it but, in contrast to many of the reviewers, I am not sure Currentzis has added much to my understanding (same with his Beethoven). To be fair, this recording is almost universally praised by all the classical magazines!

The thread is also interesting in that JVS and many readers commented on the sonic aspects. Many find it unsatisfactory and too close-up. In my system, I have no problem with it; in fact, I enjoy the extra details on offer. Sony almost always does a great job in recording. One can do a good recording with plenty of hall sound, but one can also do a good close-up recording. An audio system must be able to bring out the virtues of both - if it does not and cannot tolerate more upfront recordings, it is likely too lean sounding and in need of tempering.

If you are interested, please stream this Tchaikovsky and post what you think of both the interpretation and the recording! I'd love to hear from you.

And then there is Currentzis' Mahler 6th, which again JVS calls "devastating". It is of the same fabric as the Tchaikovsky, but at twice the length of course. I liked it, but, again, did not find the emotional connection. In fact, often the sound conjured seem to me more suitable to Tchaikovsky than Mahler. JVS is a nice fellow, and emotionally generous, but I think that hampers him as a critic of both equipment and music (memorable critics all have their own quirks and sardonic moments). Of course, I look at it with tainted glass too, as I frown upon the type of equipment he (meaning JVS)  has and is called upon to review. Honestly, I'd not know how to write reviews on that type of equipment...All that said, the Mahler is still quite worth hearing (because it is very different), but emotionally it is a far cry from many other accounts. I grew up with Nonesuch LPs (of UK Unicorn origin) of the Swedish conducted by Horenstein. Critics had problems with the level of playing and aspects of interpretation, but I still don't after all these years - it just seems emotionally connected! More recently, I recall the devastating live performance by the NYPO conducted by the wonderful Simone Young (who stood in for Jaap van Zweden, my luck). No individual episodes that are supposed to shock, but an account that had a truly inexorable momentum. When Young finally lowered her baton, I watched the first violist wiped off a bit of tears from the corner of her eye. Now, that was devastating!

It seems that parallels can be drawn for conductors and hi-fi. Some conductors prefer warmth and comfort (tube); some like precision and a sharp leading edge (some solid state; though some SET is not far behind); others are more eclectic (hopefully the case for Currentzis).

It is important to note that these, to me, are excellent sounding recordings that give thrills, important to us audiophiles. Try them and have your opinions!

Pics from my favorite restaurant in Shenzhen, Shanghai Food 老大昌

Spicy Eight Treasures 八宝辣酱 and real Hot and Sour Soup 正宗酸辣汤
(note the clear broth, which has slivers of sea cucumber 没有酱油,有海参)

Jelly Fish 海蜇头 and braised gluten 烤麸

Stir Fried Eels 炒鳝糊 and Fish in Wine Sauce 糟溜鱼片

17 September, 2021

Streaming Classical 21-4 Ladies II

Streaming Classical (21-4): Ladies Under the Radar, Part II, Pianists

For Part II, I shall focus mostly on lesser known ladies, past and present. Since many current players have made new recordings, they do have some press exposure. However, I do think most of them deserve to be better known.

Given my long held preference for Russian pianists, I shall start with them. Tatiana Nikolayeva, Maria Grinburg and Maria Yudina are veritable legends who need no mention (For the latter, who survived Stalin against all odds, here is an incredible expose that will bring you to tears) . For those living, this blog has long sung praise of the great Elizabeth Leonskaja, who was highly regarded by no less a piano great than Sviatoslav Richter, has a vast repertoire and amassed quite a discography (on various labels) and there are virtually no duds among them. If I have to single out favorites, it'd be her Schubert (earlier on Teldec; now on eaSonus). Another whom I worship is Eliso Virsaladze, whose recordings are hard to find even on regular streaming platforms (youtube is best). She is very old now and and I am very happy to have heard her in Hong Kong.

Among the younger generation, there are quite a few that I avidly follow. Foremost is Zlata Chochieva. After hearing her magnificent album of transcriptions, some rarely heard, (re)creation (Accentus), I streamed her excellent recordings on Piano Classics, even dug out the few in big boxes (Brilliant Classics). Anna Vinnitskaya, whose wide affinities don't prevent her from making everything sound fresh, can be heard in excellent recordings on Alpha, Naive and others. Ditto Ekaterina Litvintseva, whose few recordings on Profil are musically solid and sonically fabulous. This excellent label also records Ekaterina Derzhavina, whose Bach, Haydn and Medtner are pristine. It is a shame Dina Ugorskaja, daughter of famous pianist Anatole, had passed away from cancer. Her unremittingly dark Schubert D.960 (CAvi-music) was her last testament. She has recorded a lot of Bach and Beethoven; while she interpretations can sometimes be wayward, I find a probing intellect, rather removed from the wanton distortions practiced by the likes of Kathia Buniatishvili. A bit off the beaten track is Olga Paschenko, whose brilliant recordings of Beethoven and Mozart (Alpha) on fortepiano are ear-openers, not a wee bit less interesting than her many male predecessors, like Badura-Skoda, Demus, Schiff and her own teacher, Lubimov. In fact, I like hers more, especially given the quality of her piano and the usual sonic excellence of Alpha.

If there is one thing many of these ladies have in common, it is that, though trained in Russia, they are all not based there now, rather in Western Europe, particularly Germany. That says a lot about state of the arts (and economy) in Russia. It also says a lot about state of the arts in Western Europe, as it seems there are now not that many German and French women pianists (other countries like Italy have always produced even fewer) of note (perhaps eclipsed by the Russian influx). It's interesting to note that Natalia Trull, who is a teacher in Leningrad, made only a set of highly acclaimed Prokofiev sonatas (Sorel). Perhaps if she had been based in the west, we'd have heard more of her.

While we are on Europe, quite a few outstanding pianists of Asian origin are based there. I'd like to recommend to you Germany trained and based Taiwanese Pi-Hsien Chen, who is an acknowledged modern music stalwart. But her Bach is valedictory, which I prefer to the well reviewed (and good) France-based Chinese-born Zhu Xiao Mei (I never take to Angela Hewitt, not to mention Rosalyn Tureck). Chen's first Goldberg Variations (Naxos) garnered much praise, her second (phil.harmonie) a little less, though I surely prefer the latter. Both are highly worthwhile renditions that I prefer to most, and that says a lot, as I never give up an opportunity to hear this piece, on any instrument or by any ensemble! Among the younger generation, my heart belongs to Chinese American Claire Huangci, whose wide repertoire is well recorded (Berlin Classics). Her Scarlatti is stunning, second to none (other than those 4 ancient EMI recordings by Horowitz). Regarding Chopin, her Concerto No. 1 is the best of its class, and I have heard them all. Her well-reviewed Nocturnes are very different from any other (this musicweb review goes into technical aspects) and demands attention: those looking for expansive romanticism may demur but those with an open mind may find it challenging. Very different from the Engerer mentioned below. Her Scene by the Brooks in Beethoven/Liszt is mesmerizing. I will follow this pianist as closely as I can. Finally, I am impressed by the pianism of Chinese Zuo Zhang, pianist of the formidable Z.E.N. Trio (DG); I hope the pandemic shall not fracture these precious alliances. She does not have many solo recordings but I am going to hear her solo concert in Shenzhen in a few weeks.

The odd woman out here is nominally French Bridgette Engerer, who passed away too early due to cancer. Born in colonial Algeria, educated in France; BUT, in 1969, at the height of the cold war, when she was 17, already quite accomplished, she went to Moscow to study with the likes of Henryk Neuhaus. She was a sensation in Moscow, where everyone wanted to get out, not in. Needless to say, her style was not the venerated French Jeu Perle of Jean-Marie Darre, but rather much fuller sounding. Neuhaus had high regards for her, and she should be considered in the Russian tradition. She made many recordings for many labels and most are excellent. Sample her Chopin and Schubert transcriptions to start. I cannot but help to quote an Amazon reader who gave 5 stars for her "Transcendant pianism" in her  wonderful set of Chopin Nocturnes (Harmonia Mundi): "...While browsing youtube snippets of Chopin and Rachmaninov I often come across their famous compatriots, Frederik Chopping and Surge Toomuchof - even in the hands of acclaimed interpreters! What a relief, then, to come across Brigitte Engerer's wonderfully played accounts of the Chopin Nocturnes. No unwanted chopping or surging here! why cannot so many fine pianists retain their rhythmic discipline when it comes to a repeat - enter the great Surge! Or when they embark on fast runs up and down the keyboard - enter the mighty Chopping! Here, with the first notes of the first nocturne, you know you are in safe hands. There is a wonderful lyricism tempered by gravitas; a weight of utterance that yet never drags the music down. Surely a good sign is when you feel the pianist has taken you on a significant journey, even if only a couple of minutes long. Brigitte achieves this again and again, leaving me with a sense of having visited another world. Have Rubinstein et al achieved better than this?..." Incidentally, her sister-in-law is Anne Queffelec, a very good pianist (Erato and Virgin).

And now back to the legion of accomplished ladies of the "French school" (classification of ephemeral nature; just consider how different Cortot is from Nat, and they were both major pedagogues; and neither play in jeu perle fashion). Legends include Yvonne Lefebure, Jean-Marrie Darre (who US listeners are more familiar with as many of her recordings were issued on Vanguard LPs,) Youra Guller (Nimbus did musical heritage a great service in recording 2 jewels late in her life, as they did for the incomparable Vlado Perlemuter) and Marcelle Meyer. The latter is one of my favorites and I have long treasured her Les Introuvables EMI boxes (incidentally, French EMI had done very good work all around in re-issuing their Pathe vaults). You only need to compare her non-pareil Rameau and Couperin with that of the more recent and rave-reviewed Alexandre Tharaud and you will hear the great divide, not to the latter's favor. Moving on some decades, DG recorded the wonderful Monique Haas in excellent sound (now in a box; you may want to begin with Ravel's concertos, conducted by the great Paul Paray) and there are other wonderful live recordings on SWR Classics. Another great, Monique de la Bruchollerie, who commanded a vast repertoire, had mostly been forgotten until recently (the bargain 9 CD MELO Calssics box is a must for collectors). And then, 2 pianists unfortunately shadowed by their husbands. Yvonne Loriod had always been a formidable pianist (and pedagogue), known for a wide repertoire, but she later devoted more and more time to playing modern music, particularly those of her husband. Fortunately, many of her piano recordings on European Vega have been gathered into a highly valuable megabox (Universal). Many items have long been out of print. Her Mozart, Chopin and Albeniz are all in technicolor, though the solo recordings are somewhat tubby in the bass (you may want to start with the wonderfully evocative Nights in the Gardens of Spain, under the great Manuel Rosenthal). Even if she recorded little under her own name, the same needs to be done for Gaby Casadesus, who most know only as wife of Robert and his piano duo partner (sometimes triple piano with son Jean). Theirs is one of the best duo partnerships ever (move way over, Labeque sisters) and their Schubert Fantasie in F (Sony; excellent mono) is desert island material for me, having listened to its indescribable beauties since the 80's (so far, I have listened to every version, but none, including big names like Perahia/Lupu, can come remotely close to supplant this one). I have an old LP of hers in Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25 (Polydor; Lamoureux, Bigot), which I think is Mozart playing at least as good as her husband! Another forgotten figure, Germaine Thyssens-Valentin, fortunately had her unsurpassed artistry in Faure (rare in my opinion for this most difficult of composers) preserved for posterity (Testament; the original Ducretet-Thomson's fetch astronomical sums)) and one can find more of her in the composer's chamber music with strings (Edition Andre Charlin). Equally forgotten is Jacqueline Blancard, of whom I became a fan after I bought a dollar London LP of her Schumann. She made the first recording of Ravel's Left-hand concerto with Munch, and then 2 remakes. She needs to have a megabox as too few of her recordings are available. So little info is available; imagine my surprise when I hit on this Swiss siteAs I read some French it is a delight. Bravo! Then there is the younger, and under-sung Annie d'Arco, who is just as neglected as those above and in need for re-issue (her available Calliope recordings don't sound very good; and she made many recordings for other labels, like the excellent Weber sonatas for L'Oiseau Lyre). Compared to string players, among the younger generations, there are fewer prominent French women pianists. Lise de la Salle is one, and her recordings mostly please (I have heard her in NYC once and she was as good live).

On a recent Eloquence release (part of its Ansermet series), coupled to Blancard is Canadian Ellen Ballon, whom I have never heard of, in a good Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2. An early prodigy who eased out of the circle.

When it comes to Americans, meaning those raised and educated in the US, their emergence began only after the Great Wars. The first generations were largely forgotten. In Part I we rediscovered the great Ruth Slenzynska. Contemporaneous with her is Constance Keene, who was once a famous performer admired by even Horowitz and Rubinstein. though she later concentrated on teaching and judging competitions. Her most famous recording was 1969 Rachmaninov Preludes (ironically seemingly out of print), but late in her career she recorded a lot of discs for Protone (now on Newport Classic) but those have fallen into oblivion. While the Weber sonatas (also Hummel) and Bach Italian Concerto are scintillating, the Chopin Preludes are slow and rather grave, even gray. She was for sure past her prime, so take your pick. A little older is Rosalyn Tureck, who we know only as a Bach specialist, but I don't take to her numerous recordings of the Goldberg. Later generations include Ruth Laredo, who helped revive Scriabin; and Ursula Oppens, known for her promotion of new music. Among the current players, I like Ann-Marie McDermott, who has a large repertoire. Aside from being known as a modern music champion, her Prokofiev (Bridge Records) is well reviewed. For the label she is also in the middle of a Mozart concerto cycle with the Odense Symphony. What I have heard have all been excellent. Young Simone Dinnerstein is already a star, and more of her recordings (Sony) give pleasure. Though in most I wish for more details, her heart is in the right place and I am sure she will mature with age.

There are surely many more women pianists worth promoting, but this is it for a while. Next will be women string players and more.

15 September, 2021

Gotham GAC4 vs Grimm Audio TPR

Letter from Hong Kong (21-5): Eric L on Gotham GAC4 vs Grimm TPR

Lately I haven't been posting much since I have been quite content with my current setup and understand the virtues and limitations of it. As long as it has all the essential elements that l want and only limitations that I can live with, I'm perfectly fine!

Recently, I bought a pair of Grimm Audio TPR, which for many years has been raved by a lot of pro studios as being neutral and dynamic. A very nice DIY guy prepared a pair for me.

I will skip the initial impressions. For 3 months I used it sparingly to let it run in. Finally one day I decided to replace my Gotham GAC4 with the TPR and have a prolonged listening for a week.

The different was not that obvious initially but I sensed a reduction in bass quality and quantity, which GAC4 has in abundance.

Putting the Symposium Rollerblocks under my iCon4 did help with clarity and separation. Music played through the TRW was neutral but I kind of sensed something had been missing from the get go and I thought maybe it was the Emerson's Swiss sound that was the culprit. My feet hardly tapped...

After more than a week had passed by, I decided to change back to GAC4 and, voila, everything was back!! How I had missed the sound. The difference, so subtle on initial AB tests, had become much more pronounced now. I would say the music had woken up again!

Timing, rhythmic progression , musicality were back totally and the ripe, taut and sinewy bass resurfaced! GAC4 wins hands down which I had not expected at all!

I also ordered a pair of speaker wire 54240 from Gotham and would try to replace my most reliable Mogami cable for comparison. Brought it home and connected it to my system. First impression shows that it's very comparable to my Mogami, which is a good sign! Shall let it run in for a few weeks and see how it will develop! Eager to see who's the winner!!

Ed: Your experience mirrors that of mine! For me, it was the Belden 8402, so championed by Jeff Day et al. It is just plain boring, and slow at the leading edge. My theory is that these kinds of cables are suitable for people whose systems are already too sharp or edgy, or just plain like music to sound slow (here). These days, I'd take anything that crowd says (including Positive Feedback) with a big grain of salt.

Eric L: Please also visit my IG @ericlovesfuji  for my photography works!! 

13 September, 2021