Falla: The Three Cornered Hat (XRCD review)
Manuel Maria de Falla y Matheu's ballet The Three Cornered Hat, a lighthearted tale of attempted seduction, contains some of the most colorful music you'll find coming out of Spain, and Ernest Ansermet's 1961 Decca recording of it contains one of the best all-around performances and some of the best sound the music has ever received. This is not surprising, though, as Ansermet premiered the work in 1919, and Decca was in 1961 at the peak of its recording prowess.
The recording has been an audiophile favorite since the very beginning, but my trouble was, I hadn't heard it in many years, my one and only experience with it being on vinyl at a friend's house, where I thought it sounded hard and glassy. Now I discover it was most likely more the stereo system's fault than the recording's, because this new LIM XRCD/24 remastering shows it to be splendid.
From the very opening notes, you'll find yourself amazed at how well such an old recording can sound. This should come as no surprise, though, as I say. Audiophiles have known it for years. The dynamics, frequency range, and stereo spread are wide and the sonic impact is strong, yet the sound retains a realistic sense of warmth and balance as well. By comparison, the equally good Dutoit Montreal performance on a Decca digital sounds lighter, less substantial, and, yes, harder and glassier. Go figure. Certainly, the LIM remastering by engineer Paul Stubblebine and producer Winston Ma is meticulous enough to maintain all of the master tape's most subtle as well as more overt qualities, and the result, though fairly expensive, is enough to make one look forward to all such remasters from this source.
In the meantime, enjoy The Three-Cornered Hat and its companion piece, the brief "Interlude and Dance" from La Vida Breve. They are both of them the best you can get.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.