Generally speaking (a phrase the Commander of the Confederate Army used when addressed), I don’t care much for sampler albums. Record manufacturers usually use them to promote their product, and audiophiles often use them to show off their playback equipment. Not that there’s anything wrong with self-promotion or showing off. It’s just that companies don’t really intend sampler albums for sustained listening; the companies mean for them to interest people in full albums of something else and for them to provide a moment or two of audio excellence to impress listeners sonically. Fair enough.
This particular album comes to us courtesy of the German loudspeaker company Audio Physic and the Dutch recording company Turtle Records. Both companies produce high-end audiophile products and are obviously out to prove the point. The album celebrates the loudspeaker company’s twenty-fifth year of business, and it contains sixteen tracks taken from the Turtle Records catalogue of classical music, each track lasting from about two-to-eight minutes, covering the past two or three hundred years, and performed by different soloists, small groups, and orchestras. More important, the tracks actually do sound great, and the performances, no matter how brief, are uniformly outstanding. So, yes, they are fun to hear, at least once.
I won’t try to cover everything on the program, but I’ll highlight a few things I found interesting. The music begins with the Second Concerto for Trumpet, second movement, by Andre Jolivet, performed by Peter Masseurs, trumpet; Frank van der Laar, piano; and Rob Dirksen, contrabass. It demonstrates a fine sense of space and air around the performers, a wide frequency range, and excellent transient attack.
“Wohin” from Schubert’s Die schone Mullerin shows off Christoph Pregardien’s faultless voice and the dynamics of a modern Steinway-D grand piano. Next, Haydn’s Quintet in D major, second movement, with the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam provides a good example of how realistically an engineer can record a small group without stretching them across the room.
The Renaissance singing of Cappella Pratensis on Pierre de la Rue’s Gaude Virgo is lovely and proves you don’t need an over-resonant acoustic for every recording of ancient vocal music. After that we get a contributions by Anima Eterna, a period band, under Maestro Jos van Immerseel in a selection by Hugo Distler that not only sounds beautifully and enthusiastically played but, of course, beautifully and enthusiastically recorded in clear, clean sonics.
And so it goes. A lute duet is fun because it combines a lute with gut strings with one using modern nylon strings, and while it’s hard at first to tell one from the other, the recording sounds so lucid, one soon notices the differences.
A passage from Mahler’s First Symphony, performed from an original score by the Netherlands Symphony under Jan Willem de Vriend has an enormous dynamic range. More important, because the recording engineer had the sense to give it some distance, it comes across sounding most natural.
I always welcome a little Bach from La Petite Bande, and then, following that, we have a passage by Locatelli from the Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra that sounds about as transparent as anything I’ve heard and is one of the highlights of the highlights.
After a few more such numbers, the album concludes with the opening “Battle” segment of Wellington’s Victory by Beethoven played again by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. I guess Turtle Records were saving the biggest spectacle for last because it is, indeed, spectacular. Licensed from Challenge Classics, it offers a fine example of how this often rowdy piece can sound if properly recorded, offering not only strong impact but a good degree of lifelike stage presence.
Incidentally, the only thing that bothered me about the album concerned the packaging, which Turtle Records chose to do up with a black background, making some of the tiny blue text in the booklet and on the cover and back difficult to read (and in some cases darned near impossible). Really: Blue on black? Art directors, take note: Give those of us with diminishing vision a break, please.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: