09 April, 2017

Femmes Fatales, Soundtracks, Eva Cassidy, Beethoven

Music Diary: From Femmes Fatales to Dying Coffee Beans

Recently, a few albums made deep impressions on me, for different reasons. They are presented in the order they were heard.

Soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l'echafaud
This Louis Malle film (English: Lift to the Scaffolds or Elevator to the Gallows) stars Jeanne Moreau, who is on the cover of the original LP and subsequent CD releases (I have watched this film before, and it is a great one; see here). The soundtrack is by Miles Davis and his team, including Barney Willen on saxophone (for details see here). I re-listened to my CD simply because at HK's Pro Sound I saw a copy of a recent LP re-issue. I didn't buy it for 2 reasons: 1) I am not sure of the sound, it being DMM; 2) unlike my CD, which contains outtakes not on the LP, its B side actually has the soundtrack to another film (this time by Barney Willen), Un temoin dans la vie, similarly portraying a triangle that ended in murder. Now, for the real reason: the re-issue LP unfortunately chose the second film's sex-bomb Sandra Milo for the cover, and I just don't like it.

I got a bonus. I tried actually to find the film on my Mi TV box (but failed; I am sure it is on Kodi), but I stumbled upon a Japanese remake that I never knew about - the 2010 one by Akira Ogata. I watched it and it is equally excellent imho (rare for a remake). Watch it if you have a chance (Kodi has it - just search Elevator to the gallows).

If you have heard the new LP, let me know of the sound.

Audiophile Fave - The Accidental Pick-Up
Audiophiles prize themselves on hearing things others don't. Be it the NYC subway rumbling faintly during a Carnegie Hall recording, or something dropped during a session, they just go gaga. Ha! Proof of my hearing ability: during a visit to Lo (covered previously here), we heard his newest loudspeakers, the latest Avalon Saga (said to be non-diamond), which replaced the Magico Q7 MkII, with no detriment. Sound was very good. Proprius' Cantate Domino was rendered with the utmost detail and scale. But what caught me was Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley. I think it was What a Wonderful World, where I heard an electronic buzz/interference in the recording. Now, this album is an audiophile fave and, while I don't have it (while I think she is good, I am not a fan; yes, Cassidy makes every song her own, but to me every song sounds the same), I have heard it numerous times in various audiophile systems. Suffice to say, I have never heard the extraneous buzz till now! Proof of his system's resolution.

While researching this article, I found that another audiophile fave in this album, Field of Gold, was linked to one of my absolute Goddess, Ice-Skating legend Michelle Kwan (and not because I am Chinese). This link connects it all.

Beethoven and Dying Coffee Beans
Just this morning I dropped by my dear classical friend Seng's place (system last covered here). I brought with me what I just got from the library, Harnoncourt's last Sony recording, Beethoven's 4th and 5th symphony with his Concentus Musicus Wien. Seng and his wife Carmen are both bookworms, and they enjoy reading, so I guided Carmen to the booklet, which was written by Harnoncourt himself. What a tremendous article that re-examines what constitutes Beethoven. What does he mean by Da-da-da-daa? Harnoncourt shocks you, but listening to the 4th was incredibly invigorating. Strings, brass (valveless horns) and tympani came to the fore, with recessed woodwinds, but what rhythmic drive and utter magnificence! A first choice and Album of the Year!

We heard it with the ICL as transport and Sonic Frontier SFD-2 MkII DAC. Great weight and foundation!

Last, why Coffee Beans? Well, Barista Seng made me a coffee, which tasted distinctively different from his previous creations, more run of the mill. That, attributed to dying coffee beans. I concur. But Harnoncourt's Beethoven proves Beethoven shall never die!

Cheers and Happy Listening!


  1. Dear DrJohn,

    Thank you thank you for introducing me to this recording of HarnonCourt conducting Beethoven's Symphony 5. It is magnificent. This is the No5 recording I have been searching for all my life. It is also a marvelous test of a good hifi playback system to see which areas might be lacking.

    Please continue to share your favourite classical recordings. I am deeply grateful.

    1. Wow, I just posted this and you already have it! Incredible. Yes, the No. 5, which I just listened to yesterday, was just as great. I am going to replay it again soon.

      It's too bad Harnoncourt passed away so we could not have a complete cycle! But I shall be contented with just this gem.

      Thanks for your kind comments.

  2. I found it on Tidal.com of which I'm a subscriber. Tidal has made it really easy to search for music.

    I did not know of Harnoncourt until your post. What other recordings of his do you recommend?

  3. Ah, streaming! Convenient, isn't it. Harnoncourt always does things a bit differently, and ones reaction varies. I'd recommend the recent Warner budget re-issue of his Brahms (Complete Symphonies + Piano concerti and fillers). Very cheap and well recorded and performed.