Cantate Domino (CD review)

Torsten Nilsson, conductor; Alf Linder, organ; Marianne Melnas, soprano; Oscar's Motet Choir.  LIM K2HD 025.

Audiophiles will undoubtedly have one version or another of this 1976 Proprius album sitting on their shelves.  The music is beautifully sung and beautifully recorded, and the disc has deserved its reputation through the years.  It's a collection of mostly sacred Christmas hymns, with a couple of traditional Christmas tunes thrown in for good measure (and sounding oddly out of place).  After sublime renditions of "Silent Night," "Hosianna Davids Son," "Christmas Song," and the like, the concluding "Zither Song" and "White Christmas" strike an odd note.  In fact, the performance of "White Christmas" with its jazzy organ accompaniment has always reminded me of a skating rink.

However, it's not the interpretations one talks about in a review of a new mastering of Cantate Domino.  It's all about the sound.  Producer Winston Ma says in the booklet note, "I know you have a Proprius copy, and most likely other versions as well.  I urge you to compare those recordings with this one; I think you will be pleased that you have the final and ultimate edition...."  Fair enough.  I did just that, placing the LIM and Proprius discs in separate CD players, adjusting the gain for identical outputs, and making the comparisons.  As always, though, straightforward comparisons don't always tell the full story because without a master tape in the room, one never knows for sure which version is closest to the original, only which version one likes best.

I seem to recall years ago being slightly disappointed with Proprius's CD transfer because it appeared to lose some bass compared to the LP.  Not so with LIM's K2HD remastering.  The bass is the most noticeable thing about the new disc.  If you want to make a comparison for yourself, try starting with "Maria Wiegenlied."  Behind the vocals it's got a big organ that sweeps over the listener like a wave.  Yet with the more prominent bass, the LIM reveals more low-end noise, too.  Oh, well....

The second most noticeable difference is in overall smoothness.  The LIM tends to sound slightly more natural, refining hard edges that seem a tad "digital" on the Proprius disc.  Yet with the increased smoothness, you lose the tiniest degree of perceived transparency, too.  I say "perceived" because, again, you don't know what the original master tape sounds like.  Likewise, the LIM transfer seems fuller in the mid and upper bass, making it sound bigger and mellower than the Proprius.  But which is right?

Winston would undoubtedly tell you that his K2HD remaster (engineered by Paul Stubblebine and Takeshi "Hakkaman" Hakamata) neither adds nor subtracts anything from the original tape, and we'd have to take his word for it.  Still, there is no way of telling for sure without actually hearing the LIM disc next to the original tape.  All I can say is that this new LIM remaster is a bit more pleasing to my ears than Proprius's own CD.  Whether the LIM is better than the Proprius CD I'll leave to the golden ears of other reviewers.  Frankly, after some thirty-five years of comparing LPs and CDs, the whole thing remains a mystery to me.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa