You may or may not have noticed that over the past months NativeDSD has been on the hunt for the most excited and opinionated DSD listeners out there! The NativeDSD Team has selected 8 DSD reviewers from all over the world; United States (5), Thailand (1), Hungary (1) and Israel (1). This blog features 2 of the writings of the 8 newly appointed NativeDSD Reviewers. More soon!
Let us introduce you to Joel D. Parker!
Joel is an academic living in Tel Aviv, where he enjoys playing and listening to a variety of musical styles, along with parenting, writing, and learning Jewish texts. He got infected with the audiophile bug while doing his PhD and spending long hours in front of a computer. In his words, “My search for recorded music that actually sounds real and doesn’t wear down the ears began with vinyl, and eventually I found DSD, which has the warmth of vinyl but the clarity of live music. Now I try to convince my musician and audio-tech friends to give it a listen. I haven’t touched a turntable in ages.”
Joel Parker’s Review:
Confluence, meaning “the place where two rivers flow together and become one larger river” (Cambridge Dictionary), is a well-thought through solo piano album that interweaves Chopin and Bach in their barest form. It is a delightful follow up to the Spanish virtuoso pianist Josep Colom’s previous album with Eudora, Dialogue, [also available from NativeDSD here] combining the music of Mozart and Chopin. Colom provides listeners with an intellectual journey that can mesmerize novices as much as it seduces connoisseurs of the piano. By opening with Bach’s elementary Prelude No. 1 in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier and then seamlessly moving into Chopin’s Étude in that key Op. 10/1, the subtle complexity of Bach’s genius is suddenly reinterpreted in light of Chopin’s own genius, arriving just over a century later. This interplay of Bach and Chopin continues for 78 minutes, evolving with intricate adjustments to the timing of each composer’s work to create a sense of flowing—well, rivers.
Colom’s deceptively innocent opening turns towards rapid waters before long, escalating and even turning dark and moody, with the brilliant choice to throw in several of Chopin’s Nocturnes when Bach’s Preludes become lyrical, following the aria and cantata styles of the Baroque period. While some might see the choice to use a modern Steinway for composers who used different technology in their day as a move away from purely historical Bach and Chopin, it allows for a more fluid shift between each work. Moreover, Colom, who judges, teaches, and gives Masters’ classes, allows himself some leeway with transitions and rhythms in order to create the masterful sense of flow that one gets from this riveting album. Overall, this adds to the intellectual intrigue offered here, which was originally recorded in 256 DSD and 5.0 channels to allow for a potentially cascading wall of sound for those equipped for the ride.
Let us introduce you to the John Huxhold & Eric Meyer review duo!
John Huxhold is retired from a career teaching college English in St. Louis, Missouri. For many decades he has enjoyed piano and pipe organ lessons, singing in choirs, going to concerts, and hanging around hi fi shops. Since 1975 his classical music reviews and articles continue to appear in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The American Record Guide.
Eric Meyer is a college professor living in St. Louis, Missouri where he teaches writing, literature and film. He studied music in college before switching to English and film. He has written on music and has performed in college and municipal orchestras in the St. Louis region.
John Huxhold & Eric Meyer’s Review:
Ever since Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic made headlines in 1959 by performing Shostakovich symphonies in communist Moscow, there has been no shortage of recordings of the composer’s suddenly-popular works. There has also been no shortage of commentary about Shostakovich’s complicated relationship with the Soviet authorities who praised his early work, but turned critical later on.
Music critics have long speculated about the extent to which the composer’s reaction to this criticism is present in his work and to what extent it affects a conductor’s interpretation of his symphonies. This scrutiny has been most intensely applied to his Symphony No. 5; Shostakovich is reported to have said that his 5th symphony was “the practical, creative response of a Soviet artist to just criticism.” It was an immediate success, with a reception as triumphant as the heroic march in the final movement. But was it the triumph of a composer bowing to Soviet cultural control or a sarcastic comment on the persecutions he had endured? Nobody is quite sure. Nevertheless, besides the fireworks of that final movement, there are other places in the symphony that express more subtle emotions like melancholy, sturdy resolve, tender resignation, regret, and quirky humor that, political or not, reflect many varieties of just plain human sentiment.
All of this requires a conductor of great finesse and a recording capable of rendering these diverse elements with clarity and aplomb. One of the latest releases from Reference Recordings brings together just such a combination. Manfred Honeck is making a name for himself and his Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for his carefully considered and nuanced approach to the music of Richard Strauss and, in this case, the Shostakovich 5th. The high, quiet strings in the first movement float serenely above a low bass; the second movement is slower and more deliberate than in other recordings and is not as playful (a grim Soviet bear dancing clumsily?). And of course, there is that powerful finale. Nothing sounds rushed or ill-considered; it’s an interpretation that can stand proudly with the best.
All of this is rendered by producer Dirk Sobotka and engineer Mark Donahue from Sound Mirror in a high resolution DSD download that recreates the acoustic of Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall with a huge, rock-solid soundstage that is as deep as it is wide. Instruments do not appear from a flat wall of sound but project three dimensionally from their proper place in the orchestra. The high frequencies sound particularly sweet and are a subtle improvement over the SACD. The dynamic range extends from near-inaudibility to blazing brass and floor-shaking fundamentals with not a hint of strain or congestion.
There are many valid approaches to this symphony, but Honeck’s interpretation is among the most insightful. And the recording is simply stunning, especially considering that it was done during a live performance. Even in the quietest parts, there is nary a cough or breath to be heard. Even if you have multiple versions of this symphony, be sure to give this one a listen.
We hope you enjoy reading the opinion of your fellow DSD Listeners out there! Over the next weeks we will be publishing all of the reviews from the 8 brand new NativeDSD Reviewers… stay tuned!