Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (UltraHD review)

Harry Belafonte. Sony Music 88843025992, remastered.

Many years ago, in the 1960's and 70's, I used to listen to a popular weekly FM radio show in the San Francisco Bay Area called "Excursions in Stereo." Similar to John Sunier's even later "Audiophile Edition," "Excursions" gave people a chance to hear some of the best stereo then available. Every week the show's host, Jim Gabbert, would play cuts from his favorite albums, and every week he would invariably include a track or two from the 1959 RCA recording of Harry Belafonte's concert at Carnegie Hall. Naturally, I had to buy the two-LP set for myself, and when I did, I was not disappointed, except that I had taken a while to discover it. It remains one of the best, most realistic reproductions of a live pop concert I've ever heard.

When the CD era arrived, RCA cut out a few tracks and fit the program onto a single compact disc. But it wasn't the excising of four or five songs that disappointed me so much as their almost complete destruction of the sound of the live event. Fortunately, that became a forgotten issue, at least for a little while, because in the mid 90's Classic Compact Discs remastered the entire program on two gold discs, restoring much of the original sound (as well as the omitted songs). Gone was the silver disc's harshness and one-dimensionality, replaced by the master tape's richer, cleaner tones and three-dimensionality. Although the sound seemed a little drier than I remembered it from the old LP days, it still conveyed a sense of presence unmatched by most recent digital efforts. This was a treasured LP set that I regretted coming to late in its history, but I was more than happy to have acquired the gold edition. Too bad Classic Compact Discs went out of business years ago, and the gold discs are no longer available (except used, I suppose).

Well, that was my history with the recording until the present. Now, I'm happy to say, there's another choice, and it's better than anything that's come before. The current incarnation of the Belafonte concert comes to us via UltraHD PureFlection, one of the last projects that FIM (First Impression Music) producer Winston Ma was involved with prior to his death. To manage such a great-sounding disc, Winston had Michael Bishop of Five/Four Productions do the 32-bit remastering and used UltraHD, an extra-precise manufacturing process, to complete the job.

The UltraHD disc contains the following songs on the program:
  1. Introduction/Darlin' Cora
  2. Sylvie
  3. Cotton Fields
  4. John Henry
  5. The Marching Saints
  6. Day O
  7. Jamaica Farewell
  8. Mama Look A Boo Boo
  9. Come Back Liza
  10. Man Smart
  11. Hava Nageela
  12. Danny Boy
  13. Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma
  14. Shenandoah
  15. Matilda

Harry Belafonte
One thing noticeable about Belafonte's performances in this concert is that he generally slows things down compared to his equivalent studio releases. You'll observe it in things like "Day-O" and "Jamaica Farewell," which seem more heartfelt taken at the slightly slower pace. Other than that, Belafonte is Belafonte, the man who practically invented calypso; or, at least, popularized it in America. Wonderful music in 1959; wonderful music today.

To evaluate the disc's sound quality, needless to say I put it up against the best version I already had in my collection, the aforementioned gold edition from Classic Compact Discs. Here, the comparison was fascinating. The gold remastering had sounded so much better than RCA's silver disc, I couldn't imagine anything surpassing it. But after adjusting for playback levels, the UltraHD disc did, indeed, eclipse it. Especially in clarity. I had never noticed the gold discs sounding so soft or warm before, but compared to the crystalline clarity of the UltraHD disc, the gold discs appear decidedly veiled, if only slightly. Of course, you may prefer a softer, warmer sound because you think it's easier on the ear. Fair enough; individual preference always takes precedence. But, really, the UltraHD is not only more transparent, it's just as easy on the ear as the gold, with no brightness, harshness, edginess, or glare. What's more, it appears to preserve even more of the original master tape's legendary presence, depth, dimensionality, and general feeling of aliveness than the gold discs. So, overall, the UltraHD is a superb product; no reservations whatsoever.

You can find this product at a number of on-line vendors, but you'll find some of the best prices at Elusive Disc: http://www.elusivedisc.com/

JJP

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

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa