The Best of Play Bach (UltraHD CD review)

Jacques Loussier Trio. FIM LIM 067 LE.

There is a reason why a good number of audiophile discs are either classical or jazz and why many audiophiles prefer listening to these two genres. In a nutshell, it's because the classical and jazz genres are among the only ones that use few or no microphones when playing live. What difference should that make? It means that when people hear a classical or jazz recording in their home, they have a chance to compare the sound (at least in their mind) to their remembrance of the sound of a live event. With most pop, rock, and contemporary music, home listeners have no chance of comparing a disc's sound to anything live because in reality the "sound" of pop, rock, and contemporary music depends upon the microphones and loudspeakers used at the live event. For instance, even a singer in a small nightclub using the club's PA system gives us the sound of the PA system as much as it does the singer. And it's the sound of a recording that interests audiophiles as much as or more than the music itself. That's why we call them "audio"philes.

All of which brings us to the Jacques Loussier Trio, three jazzmen who have been bringing us their jazz renditions of popular classical tunes for a really long time. Combining classical and jazz, they are an audiophile's delight. The Loussier ensemble has done Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Handel, Mozart, Ravel, Satie, Vivaldi, Schumann, you name it, and Loussier's own involvement in jazz interpretations of classical music dates back to the 1950's. So he knows what he's doing.

Pianist Jacques Loussier has worked with several different trio partners over the years. The album lists the lineup here as Loussier on piano, Vincent Charbonnier on bass, and Andre Arpino on drums.  Loussier made his first Play Bach album in 1959, and this current one, The Best of Play Bach, he made for Telarc several years ago. Now, the folks at FIM have remastered it to audiophile standards using their UltraHD and PureFlection technology.

In The Best of Play Bach we get what Loussier feels are the best numbers from his Bach series, this time recorded by Telarc in SACD multichannel surround sound but here remastered in two-channel stereo. The eleven tracks total about an hour's music and include some of Bach's most-popular tunes.

The program begins with the familiar Toccata & Fugue in D minor. If Stokowski could arrange this organ piece for full orchestra, I guess Loussier felt he could do the same for a three-piece jazz trio. In any case, it works pretty well (and you can hear a snippet of it below). It's easily recognizable as Bach yet turns nicely jazzy a few minutes in. Then it alternates between a free-form jazz and Bach motifs for most the remainder of the piece. It's quite fetching, really, whether you're a jazz fan or a classical music aficionado.

Next up is the Air on a G String, which in an earlier recording many years ago by the Loussier Trio became an international best seller, and one can see why with this newer version. It's not only jazzy, it's easygoing, seemingly improvisational, and thoroughly engaging.

And so it goes through a lovely Prelude No. 1 in C major that rocks toward the end; a resounding Gavotte in D major that will give your woofers a workout; and a sweetly affecting Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring that for me was a highlight of the set.

Three movements from Bach's Italian Concerto (Presto, Allegro, and Andante) constitute the longest sustained work on the disc.  The music is lively, imaginative, and pensive by turns.  The album then closes with a pair of virtuosic pieces: the Fugue No. 5 in D major and the Pastorale in C minor, the latter another highlight, particularly for its remarkable bass solo.

FIM (First Impression Music) and their subsidiary LIM (Lasting Impression Music) brought the music to the present audiophile UltraHD album in 2013, using the latest advances in 32-bit technology for the transfer. In addition producer Winston Ma used some new, innovative engineering he calls Pure Reflection or, putting the two words together, PureFlection. It's an improved disc reproduction process that makes replication even more precise, and which Ma goes on to explain in several pages of detail in the disc's accompanying notes. Let it suffice that the technology seems to work, and we get what Ma claims is a pure reflection of the original. I don't doubt him.

Anyway, the Jacques Loussier Trio recorded these Bach pieces for Telarc in 2003-04 in discrete multichannel SACD, although, as I said earlier, LIM have remastered it in straight two-channel stereo. Interestingly, LIM employed the same mastering engineer, Michael Bishop, who mastered the original SACD for Telarc.

Everyone at LIM did a good job with the remastering and transfer. The disc's sonics are terrifically clean and highly dynamic. The highs sound beautifully extended, and the bass can be awesomely deep. The cymbals sparkle, shimmer, and sizzle as the case may be, and the drum attack is impressive. There is also a good stereo spread, with plenty of air and space around the three instruments. Clear strings, strong impact, a well-defined piano, a full ambient bloom, and accurate imaging complete the sonic picture, and a fine picture it is.

As always, FIM/LIM have packaged the disc well in a handsome, glossy, hardbound book arrangement resembling a Digipak with the booklet notes fastened to the inside and the disc itself inserted into a static-proof liner, further enclosed by a thin-cardboard album sleeve. Just don't forget that these audiophile products aren’t cheap. Remember my warning in advance against sticker shock.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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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 Jon 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

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.

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