Audio Asylum Thread Printer
Get a view of an entire thread on one page
|For Sale Ads|
So I took the challenge from srl1 (over on Hi-Rez Highway), and downloaded the new BIS recording of Gershwin's works for piano and orchestra (Concerto in F, Rhapsody in Blue, etc.), with pianist Freddy Kempf and the Bergen Philharmonic led by Andrew Litton. So this post is a kind of "shoot from the hip" impression, based on two listenings of the entire album earlier today. My verdict:
This is quite the recording! In conductor Walter Damrosch's words, Gershwin “made a lady out of jazz”. I wonder if Damrosch would have said that if he had heard these performances, probably the most suggestive I've ever encountered - I've never heard as much bending and sliding of tones as we hear from the Bergen players - it's positively lurid! Add to this a kind of heroic aggression adopted by both soloist and orchestra in the faster parts, and you have some very individual performances of these well known works. My wife and I were very taken with every one of them. About the only thing I would criticize is that at about 9:15 in the first movement of the Concerto in F, Kempf is going so fast that he can't articulate the dotted rhythms and has to even out the note values in order to maintain his tempo. But this is the kind of "mistake" I can forgive, because it's obvious that the pianist is taking a risk, and his level of risk-taking is simply beyond the capabilities of less technically gifted pianists. One further point: I haven't checked the booklet yet, so I don't quite know what's going on, but some of the orchestraion sounds different from what I'm used to on other recordings (e.g., extra percussion in places where I never heard it before).
As for the engineering, the 24/96 two-channel recording I downloaded from eClassical is exceptional, with a perfect combination of clarity and blend - very "up close and personal" with spectacular definition on the many percussion instruments. And the bass goes down low but stays focused. In fact, the focus of the whole acoustic environment is one of the most impressive things about this recording. Honestly, I can't for life of me understand the criticisms of BIS engineering I've read both here on Hi-Rez Highway and on SA-CD.net. What are these folks listening through? And it looks good too - a spectrograph of the third movement of the Concerto in F is shown beow:
(Notice - no DSD high frequency noise dusting!)
I have other hi-rez recordings of the Rhapsody and the Concerto, and none of the others is as high octane as this new BIS recording! I was just a bit disappointed by the Naxos Blu-ray audio with Orion Weiss and Joanne Falletta: these performances are so laid back that they lose excitement and even sound a bit careful at times. Also, although the bass goes low on the Naxos recording, it spreads and lacks the focus of the BIS recording. Interpretively midway between this new Kempf recording and the Weiss recording is the SACD on Harmonia Mundi by Jon Nakamatsu and the Rochester Phil conducted by Jeff Tyzik. I think this Nakamatsu/Tyzik recording is a valid alternative to the Kempf/Litton. The Harmonia Mundi engineering captures a "bigger" space with more blend and less clarity than the BIS recording - percussion on the Nakamatsu recording seems way further back. (I'm trying to be objective here, since, as I've mentioned before, I rehearsed both the Rhapsody and the Concerto in F with Jon before his first performances of these works.) Finally, there's the old reliable standard: the BMG SACD reissue of the Earl Wild / Arthur Fiedler / Boston performances. And this early 60's recording really does hold up very well - Wild is excellent throughout, although Fiedler allows some moments of imprecision sometimes in the orchestral parts. The sound still strikes me as excellent - it captures the reverberation of the hall very well and exhibits the typical sonic integration of minimally microphoned recordings from that "golden age of stereo", even though it's not quite as clear in texture as the modern recordings. In sum, I think all of these hi-rez recordings are worthy, with the Weiss/Falletta recording at a bit less distinguished level. But if I want maximum thrills and characterization, I think that in the future I'm going to reach for this new BIS recording with Kempf and Litton, with their Norwegian cohorts.
Chris: Have you heard the Lincoln Mayorga recording of Rhapsody in Blue and the "I Got Rhythm" Variations? This is on a Harmonia Mundi RBCD (2010). Your characterization of the Wild and Nakamatsu performances are right on the mark.
I really don't need another recording of Rhapsody or the Variations, but I would like to hear your reaction to both performance and recording to see if it's worthwhile for me to buy the Kempf disc. The Mayorga has the original jazz band arrangements. The disc also includes arrangements of Gershwin songs.
I'm not a Bis groupie. I think other labels have better sound. I have no complaints about the dynamic range. I don't normally like the tonal quality and the lack of fine detail in Bis recordings. My most recent purchase was Danças Brasileiras. I love the music, but the sound was disappointing. The music cries out for a better recording.
I don't think I've heard the Mayorga recording. I have heard (and still own) the Ivan Davis / Maurice Peress recording of Rhapsody in Blue, which I believe also uses the original jazz band arrangement, and, as Seth notes below, sometimes the banjos (or maybe it's a single banjo) are/is very prominent.
Re the BIS sound - I haven't heard the Danças Brasileiras recording unfortunately. Most of the BIS recordings I have include their great Sibelius performances, as well as a lot of their Grieg SACD's - I also have their Sao Paolo Respighi trilogy. My feeling is that they're almost always above average and sometimes spectacularly good, but we may have just been listening to different repertoire - they have a pretty huge catalog.
I would say that the recent Mayorga/Gallodoro/Harmonie Ensemble/Steven Richman recording of Rhapsody in Blue is probably the best. Dare I say it, but it's a historically informed performance in the sense that it captures Gershwin's jazz sound by using the same very small ensemble as the Paul Whiteman Orchestra were prominence is given to individual wind and brass players (and even the banjo comes it quite clearly). It's a completely different soundscape than what we're used to hearing, and makes the piece sound more unbound and daring.
As for the Variations, it sounds like Kempf/Litton may be the new standard.
Great review! Especially since it doesn't contradict my own findings (even though you put them more eloquently):) If I hadn't bought it already, I'd buy it for sure now.
As I wrote over on the Hi-Res Forum, I had originally decided against downloading this recording, but your post here has been most persuasive! I do agree with you about the Orion Weiss recording--way too laid back performance-wise, though I think the sound quality (even via an ordinary 16/44.1 download) is very good. Looking forward to this new one!
How and why did you convert Flac to Aiff?.
So do AIFF's sound better than Flac's?
I use Korg Audio Gate to burn DSD Discs for my Sony 5400.
I bought Africa Brass from HD Tracks, in 24 bit Flac. It didn't sound anywher near as good as the Vinyl reissue. I wonder if converting it to AIFF would make any difference.
No - not at all. It's just that I mostly use iTunes for my playback and iTunes won't play FLAC's.
Thanks! Does ITunes play back HI Rez files? Sorry for the novice questions!
Yes indeed, it does - at least up to 24/192, as long as the track is two-channel. However, iTunes will not play back multi-channel. (Or if it will, I haven't figured out a way to make it do so.) So for my two 24/96 multi-channel Chandos downloads, I use VLC media player for playback.
As I said on SACD.net:
It appears Litton made some additions to the orchestration, such as the addition of a cymbal (I'm guessing it's a hi-hat) to the opening of the last variation of Variations on "I Got Rhythm." I have no problem with that given how in Gershwin's time he and Whiteman would more or less incorporate whatever instruments were on hand at a given performance.
It should also be mentioned that this is the only SACD that uses the original Paul Whiteman jazz band version of Rhapsody, and one of the very few recordings of the Second Rhapsody that uses Gershwin's original orchestration.
let me know. Scottwheelmakeup@yahoo.com
Post a Followup:
Post a Message!
This post is made possible by the generous support of people like you and our sponsors: