The Bloated Cello Sound Some Audiophiles Seem to Love

More The Bloated Cello Sound Some Audiophiles Seem to Love

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate any and all cello recordings you may own.

On this pressing we were a bit surprised by how unusually natural the cello sounded — more like the real instrument and less like the typical recording of it. 

Normally when recording the cello the microphones are placed fairly close to the instrument. This often results in what’s known as the “proximity effect,” which simply describes a boost in the lower frequencies relative to the more linear response of the microphone when placed at a distance.

The famous Starker cello recordings on Mercury — you know the ones, the orginals and even the reissues sell for hundreds and hundreds of dollars — suffer from this effect, which audiophiles seem to prefer. (The Mercury heavy vinyl reissues, at least the ones I played, were ridiculously fat and bloated in the bottom.

Audiophiles did not seem to mind much, judging by the apparently strong sales and the rave reviews I read. Bass shy systems, and that means most of the systems owned by audiophiles, probably benefited from the bass boost. Systems with lots of large woofers — at least in our case — would of course make the sound of these pressings positively unbearable. That indeed was our experience.)

Getting back to the record at hand, it presents a more natural cello if only because the instrument has been miked from a greater distance.

Side two is a bit fuller sounding than side one, and one of them is going to sound more correct on your system than the other. I would not even want to say for sure which one actually is more correct, as the slight difference between them might be subtle enough to play into room and system non-linearities that plague all stereos and rooms.

Both sides here will sound the way these real instruments sound when played in the kinds of rooms that one might hear them in, practicing perhaps. That makes this recording unusual in the world of “audiophile recordings,” if I can call this one, and no less refreshing and enjoyable for it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Britten – Sonata in C for Cello and Piano
Schumann – Funf Stucke Im Volkston

Side Two

Schumann – Funf Stucke Im Volkston
Debussy – Sonata for Cello and Piano

Benjamin Britten

Britten was an accomplished pianist, frequently performing chamber music and accompanying lieder and song recitals. However, apart from the Holiday Diary (1934), Piano Concerto (1938), Young Apollo (1939), Diversions (written for Paul Wittgenstein in 1940), Scottish Ballad (1941), he wrote relatively little music that puts the piano in the spotlight, and in a 1963 interview for the BBC said that he thought of it as “a background instrument”.

One of Britten’s best known works is The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1946), which was composed to accompany Instruments of the Orchestra, an educational film produced by the British government, narrated and conducted by Malcolm Sargent. Its subtitle is Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, the theme is a melody from Henry Purcell’s Abdelazar. Britten gives individual variations to each of the sections of the orchestra, starting with the woodwind, then the string instruments, the brass instruments and finally the percussion. Britten then brings the whole orchestra together again in a fugue before restating the theme to close the work. The original film’s spoken commentary is often omitted in concert performances and recordings.

Britten’s church music is also considerable: it contains frequently performed ‘classics’ such as Rejoice in the Lamb, composed for St Matthew’s Northampton (where the Vicar was Revd Walter Hussey), as well as A Hymn to the Virgin, and Missa Brevis for boys’ voices and organ.

As a conductor, Britten performed the music of many composers, as well as his own. Among his celebrated recordings are versions of Mozart’s 40th Symphony and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (with Pears as Gerontius), and an album of works by Grainger in which Britten features as pianist as well as conductor.

Early in his career, Britten made a conscious effort to set himself apart from the English musical mainstream, which he regarded as complacent, insular and amateurish. Many contemporary critics distrusted his facility, cosmopolitanism and admiration for composers such as Mahler, Berg, and Stravinsky, not at the time considered appropriate models for a young English musician.

Britten’s status as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century is now secure among professional critics.

Wikipedia