Varese / Arcana / Mehta – Speed Is Key

More of the music of Edgar Varese (1883-1965)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

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  • Incredible sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY form start to finish — amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality
  • A recording that allows your speakers to disappear completely like no other
  • A powerful Test Disc as well – use this one to check your speed and staging, subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this

Incredible sound for this CRAZY 20th Century music, featuring wild and wacky works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (not one, not two, but three bass drums!). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its proper reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1972
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Arcana

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Mehta Is The Man

If you’ve been reading our commentaries over the years, you know that we are not fans of the sonic characteristics of Mehta’s recordings with the LA Phil. We frankly do not understand how audiophiles can take them seriously.

That said, here is one from 1972 that is hard to fault. If only more of Mehta’s LA Phil recordings sounded this good.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Arcana

Side Two

Integrales
Ionisation

Wikipedia on Edgar Varese

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was an innovative French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.

Varèse’s music emphasizes timbre and rhythm. He was the inventor of the term “organized sound”, a phrase meaning that certain timbres and rhythms can be grouped together, sublimating into a whole new definition of music. Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. His use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the “Father of Electronic Music” while Henry Miller described him as “The stratospheric Colossus of Sound”.

Varèse’s emphasis on timbre, rhythm, and new technologies inspired a generation of musicians who came of age during the 1960s and 1970s. One of Varèse’s biggest fans was the American guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, who, upon hearing a copy of The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Vol. 1, which included Intégrales, Density 21.5, Ionisation, and Octandre, became obsessed with the composer’s music.

On his 15th birthday, December 21, 1955, Zappa’s mother, Rosemarie, allowed him a call to Varèse as a present. At the time Varèse was in Brussels, Belgium, so Zappa spoke to Varèse’s wife Louise instead. Eventually Zappa and Varèse spoke on the phone, and they discussed the possibility of meeting each other. Although this meeting never took place, Zappa did receive a letter from Varèse.

Varèse’s spirit of experimentation with which he redefined the bounds of what was possible in music lived on in Zappa’s long and prolific career. Zappa’s final project was The Rage and the Fury, a recording of the works of Varèse. In the liner notes of his early albums, he quoted the ICG manifesto, “The present day composer refuses to die.”

In 1981, Zappa produced and hosted “A Tribute to Edgard Varèse” at the Palladium in New York City, an event at which Louise was an honored guest.

Ionisation

Ionisation (1929–1931) is a musical composition by Edgard Varèse written for thirteen percussionists, the first concert hall composition for percussion ensemble alone. The premiere was at Steinway Hall, on March 6, 1933, conducted by Nicolas Slonimsky, to whom the piece was later dedicated. One critic described the performance as “a sock in the jaw.”

The instrumentation is the following:

3 bass drums (medium, large, very large), 2 tenor drums, 2 snare drums, tarole (a kind of piccolo snare drum), 2 bongos, tambourine, field drum, crash cymbal, suspended cymbals, 3 tam-tams, gong, 2 anvils, 2 triangles, sleigh bells, cowbell, chimes, glockenspiel, piano, 3 temple blocks, claves, maracas, castanets, whip, güiro, high & low sirens, and a lion’s roar.

[Ionisation] is built on a most sensitive handling and contrast of different kinds of percussive sounds. There are those indefinite in pitch, like the bass drum, snare drum, wood blocks, and cymbals; those of relatively definite musical pitch, such as the piano and chimes; those of continually moving pitch, like the sirens and ‘lion’s roar.’

It is an example of ‘spatial construction,’ building up to a great complexity of interlocking ‘planes’ of rhythm and timbre, and then relaxing the tension with the slowing of rhythm, the entrance of the chimes, and the enlargement of the ‘silences’ between sounds. There are suggestions of the characteristic sounds of modern city life.


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For – Ambience, Size and Space

Advice – What to Listen For – Bass and Whomp

Advice – What to Listen For – Energy

Advice – What to Listen For – Smear

Advice – What to Listen For – Speed

Advice – What to Listen For – Transparency Vs Opacity

Advice – What to Listen For – Tubes Vs. Transistors

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