13 September, 2018



Listening Notes: Comfort in the Same
Classical Music Recommendation: Neglected Gems from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Other Lost Treasures

Weeding Out The first days back in NYC were spent on household chores, chief among which the redistribution of space ("creation" being a misnomer). This shall prove to be a continual struggle for the foreseeable future, a plight most New Yorkers would share in. I had already put away more than half of my wardrobe for donation; the kitchen and living room are to be pared down next.

In anticipation of the arrival of a large shipment of household goods from HK that demands shelf and closet space, which have long been usurped for audio storage, I shall be weeding out my LP collection, some for donation, and some perhaps for sale as dollar LP's if friends are interested. Anyone local?

Books too shall be donated - they used to play a role as vital as music, but I guess all titles of my once-favorite authors, such as Borges and Thomas Mann, can be readily found in the library if needed. As I buy ever fewer CD's, I rarely buy books anymore, instead preferring to borrow from the local library. I enjoy browsing the new arrivals and once in a while check one out to read, just like I'd the New Yorker magazine. As streaming is to music, the library is to books, but better, as what we get to enjoy, albeit not to own, is a hard copy. Reading on the Smartphone or tablet screen? No, thank you. Just try to get through The Magic Mountain on a screen!

The big question is, now that I am without HK's surprisingly excellent library resource for new classical music issues, should I contemplate a streaming service such as Tidal? Not now, as time is very limited, and here in NYC, vinyl is king; but I see the attraction and, having a few DAC's, unused cheap android tablets and a Chromecast on hand, I guess I am always ready to go.

Comfort in The Same
Partly due to jet lag, for more than a week I did not fire up my audio. Then one day, venturing a bit further out I lucked out at a small local thrift shop, where I picked up a few pop records, including Led Zeppelin's Graffiti and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions., as well as a UK EMI of Suppe Overtures. A day later, feeling more energetic, I went into Manhattan and bought more than $500 worth of concert tickets for the season (Carnegie and Geffen Hall) and scooped up more classical LP's and a few CD's along the way.

Despite having likely close to ten thousand LP's, these new acquisitions are the ones that motivated me to fire up one of my stations, then another. That is human folly indeed - what one already has more often than not is not as stimulating as new arrivals.

Astonishingly, despite a long period of disuse, the systems sound even better than I remember from six months ago. This had happened before here in NYC, but not in HK - I'd guess the drier and cooler climate here helps.

First System II, Thorens TD-125/SME 3009i/Denon DL-304 into Langevin 402B SUT into Shindo Monbrisson into Wavac MD-811 driving YL horns. I was pleasantly reminded of the power and ease of reproduction, but found the sound improved, particularly in the bass, which is even more tactile than before. Last time just before leaving I had changed the Gotham GAC-2 interconnect from preamp to amp to Gotham DGS-1, and I think that is what I am hearing. Then I fired up System III, and it too sounded just as I remembered, a trifle leaner than System II.

Unsung Gems from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Reiner is famous among audiophiles for his Living Stereo Chicago recordings - who doesn't have his Scheherazade or Thus Spake Zarathustra, among others? But he was actually even more prolific in the recording studio than we think. Although not known for his Beethoven, I was mesmerized by his Pastorale (White Dog), a reading of singular power, not as mellifluous as Walter's justly famous account, but lean and lithe (almost "HIP" informed) and equally valid, and I'd rank it with other great ones like Karl Bohm's. It is also noticeable for its sound - this must be one of the best Living Stereo's I have heard, cavernously spacious, yet every strand easily audible. The other Reiner gem is his Symphonia Domestica, surely the least known of his great Strauss recordings. The maroon label Victrola sounded absolutely resplendent, and made a convert of me for this score, which had previously eluded my grasp in other versions. I reckon the SACD remastering still currently available should be pretty good too (in general I found them better than the first Living Stereo issues). The best Strauss playing has a sheen, illuminated from within and should never sound forced; so it is here, as good as any (Berlin and VPO included) on disc. Jean Martinon had a hard time in Chicago, but his recording of Nielsen's 4th (Dynagroove) is immortal. Talking about playing with fire! Never equalled, but sadly little known.

Also magnificent is under-rated Dorati's Miraculous Mandarin (Mercury; certainly less known than his Firebird), played idiomatically by the BBCSO. What is equally remarkable is that the system renders hard rock euqally well. In Led Zep's Graffiti - the bass and drumming are just tightly rendered, tactile, purposeful, and the music is moved inexorably along, and this from an MC, not even MM!

System III consists of Thorens TD-309/Denon DL-103, Mobile Fidelity StudioPhono, Schiit Saga and Langevin 102 into the same Wavac amp driving YL horns. It is by character a trifle leaner, but suits Martinu's concertante works to a T. I rediscovered the Concerto for Violin and Piano, and I think it is a neglected masterpiece, impeccably rendered by the Supraphon team here. Even more surprisingly was another neglected conductor, Viennese-born and trained Henry Krips (brother of better known Josef), here turning in stunning accounts of Suppe Overtures (EMI), the best I have heard, by a large margin. How the music breathes and how well the rhythms are sprung should provide lessons for modern conductors. The early stereo sound is good though a little coarse, but in my book it now stands together with Arthur Fiedler's Gaite Parisienne and Piero Gamba's Rossini Overtures as the best of bob-bon's. The system also does well with rock, as Stevie Wonder's Innervisions just sound unpredictable, ecletic, kaleidoscopic and, most importantly, interesting.

Symphony 8In System III, I also played CD's through the Sparkler 303 CDP. The sound is commensurate with the analog. I was totally enthralled with Gergiev's first Kirov recording of Shostakovich's 8th (Philips), which is both sonically and interpretively at least as good as the more current version (orchestra renamed Mariinsky, on its own label), and that says something. Highly recommended.

Afternoon chez Kevin
On a rainy afternoon I visited Kevin (previous visit here) and over a glass of wine listened to his many new acquisitions. Hidden from view in this pic are the turntables. His new 2-armed Lenco GL-75 now sports Andy's Decca tonearm fitted with a Shure M44-7, which he (like me, reported here) is very enthusiastic about; it certainly sounded more lively compared to the Rabco linear tracking arm fitted with a Pickering 380 (too heavy, I wonder...). In comparison, the VPI Prime turntable just sounds, eh, dull.

There is a new Chinese tube preamp (top of front rack), but I still preferred the Citation I. Driving a newly restored pair of McIntosh MC-30, the Altec A7 horns were lovely, but I think all that extraneous stuff in front center, especially the equipment rack, ate away at the sound a bit.

We talked about some projects. I'd like to loan him my Shure SC35C for comparison with the M44-7. Also, it is time to match my McIntosh C20, C22 and MX110 to the MC-30! As usual, watch this space!


The bulk of the article was written around 911, a day any New Yorker would never forget. 17 years ago, I was in a HK bar around 9 pm (12 hours from EST). All of a sudden, the TV flashed the extra, with footage of tower ablaze. The silence in the bar was eery.

We all harbor sentiments of disapproval and disdain, but it is a long way to pulverizing hatred that destroys the life of others as well as self-destructs. In face of so much misery in the world, we all shall be more grateful for our existence. Peace.

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