Category Archives: HD downloads

New Audio Releases for the Holidays 2016-3

I’ve written previously of a delightful album organist E Power Biggs made for CBS called Music for a Merry Christmas, as available in a transfer from High Definition Tape Transfers (HDTT). This year HDTT has a second Biggs album called What Child Is This? and it’s as much of a charmer as the first.  On this program Biggs plays in partner ship with the men of the Gregg Smith Singers, the Texas Boys Choir of Fort Worth, and the New York Brass and Percussion Ensemble. Gregg Smith conducts. When the boys sing with the men they in a sense make up an SATB choir.

The sound is crisp and clear with wide stereo separation. Though there are exceptions, the boys are usually  in the left channel, the men in the right and the organ in the center. The percussion pop up all over the place. Though this recording is still available on CBS LP and Sony CD, HDTT has done an astonishingly good transfer of it, making it available in a wide variety of download formats as well as discs. The sound is so impressive that I’d go with their edition in spite of the extra cost. There’s alas no info on the organ used. It’s not one of those huge monsters with lots of subwoofer bass, but a brightly chirping instrument that has ultra bubbly, clean sound. Probably a Flentrop or something like that.


Delightful Dvorak

Most of us know the wonderful Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak, and they exist in dozens of recordings (my favorites are Szell and Kubelik), but few have heard the three Slavonic Rhapsodies, which truly fit the bill of “neglected masterpieces.” They’ve been recorded here and there, usually one or the other of them as a filler for a recording of a more established Dvorak work, but the inventive audiophile label Pentatone has released all three of them at a time on a new disc conducted by Jakub Hrusa. The excellent orchestra is the PKF – Prague Phihlarmonia, a young ensemble bursting with energy and virtuoso players. The rhapsodies have good tunes galore. The first begins quietly with a more martial middle section, whereas the the second is more episodic. The third had more of a


carnival atmosphere which relates to the the more familiar dances.  The filler piece here is far more than that, a rousing rendition of the composer’s Symphonic Variations, a composition that makes one marvel at Dvorak’s brilliant orchestrations. The recorded sound is a on a par with the compelling performances, in other words first rate, fairly close up yet reverberate and warm. Though I downloaded these performances, they have been released on a Hybrid SACD and if Pentatone is true to form, the rear channels will add just the right hall echo to give the front channels a super three-dimensional sense. While you’re at it, check out the earlier Hrusa Pentatone recording of Dvorak Overtures. Ignore the Amazon 3 star rating; five stars here.  I hope Pentatone continue its relationship with this conductor and orchestra. More recordings would be welcome!


HD Recordings are Out There – Here’s Exactly Where To Find Them

(It’s been pointed out that just to add to the confusion, some people say “High Resolution” instead of “High Definition.”)

I wrote a few days OK about AIX Records CEO Mark Waldrep and his war on mislabeled HD recordings, noting that though I agree with him 100 percent on the issue, he often skews his remarks to make it seem like there are only AIX HD recordings and just a few other labels, and that’s simply not so. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of HD recordings with higher bit and sampling rates and I’ll give you some links to find them. As far as downloads go, I’ll start with Mark’s iTrax, since he’s the one that got me going on this. At iTrax you can find all of the AIX catalog and a few other great labels like 2L. And of course, all AIX recordings are available as HD DVD-Audio discs. With surround channels yet.

Reference HRX

The very closest you can get to a master tape recording is HDx from Reference Recordings. These look like CDs but are really data discs that when played through a player such as the OPPO universal units, will decode the master tape digit for digit. You can’t get closer than that. Reference Recordings has the magnificent Eije Oue/Minnesota recordings to offer and I’ve said it before and will say it again, Oue’s version of Rahmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances is the best in the catalog and one of the top ten best recorded discs of all time.  Now I find that Reference Recordings are handled internationally by Naxos and that brings me to ClassicsOnlineHD.LL, where you’ll find a huge number of HD titles on dozens of labels. If you prefer hard copies, you can look up the SACD and Blu-ray disc versions at the Naxos site. In addition to Reference Recordings, be sure to pay special attention to Chandos, BIS, Oehms, LSO Live, Pentatone, and Naxos own Blu-ray discs if you’re looking for the highest fi. If Naxos doesn’t have it, and you’re looking for classical downloads  try Linn Records or Eclassical. You’ll find some duplication with the Naxos site; competitive pricing might sway your buying decision. They all  have easy download methods, by the way. Both sites have many labels and are very transparent about bit and sampling rates used. Most of the Linn downloads are also available as 24bit/96kHz SACDs with surround tracks. And whatever you do, don’t miss out on the incredible line of recordings from MDG, which is to me sort of like the Reference Recordings of Europe, in short, the best and almost all true HD.

Naxos Blu Gliere

So is HDtracks, which is a good source for pop and jazz downloads, most of the time. The site is run by Chesky Records and the owners surely know what HD is, they record all of their own new recordings at higher bit and sample rates, but the major labels they deal with, in trying to have a site representative of all music, sometimes throw curves at them. Generally if you see a recording over 25 years old that is being called something above CD quality, it is being mislabeled.  But in general HDtracks is on the money these days, a recent 24bit/96kHz Bruce Springsteen compilation identifies the specific racks that were sourced from 16bit/44.1kHz masters and converted. A much appreciated example of transparency!

I’ve probably left a lot out here but the main thing I want you to take away is that there are great recordings out there and they are not all 50-year old classics. There are exciting recordings being done today, using higher bit and sampling rates that were not available 30 years ago. They will not be found in the MP3 camp. MP3 “quality” has set recorded sound back too many years to count, substituting quantity for quality. The 45 rpm records I owned 60 years ago probably sounded better.

Another Wonderful Jazz Recording from Sound Liaison

Sound Liaison is a Netherlands based partnership two bass players, Frans de Rond and Peter Bjørnild. They’ve assembled some terrific artists who play great jazz and given them high definition sound.  I raved about their initial recordings on the Sound Stage! Network, and have enjoyed watching their progress in listening to their appealing new albums.

En Azul

Their newest program is titled En Azul and features the Witmer Trio, Cajan Witmer – piano,
Han Slinger – double bass, and Maarten Kruijswijk – drums. The trio has been together for 20 years and all the players sound very comfortable in their skins. Their emphasis is on melody with ornamentation and variation that heightens a sense of melody rather than distracting from it.  And they’ve picked some terrific tunes to work with – Carioca, The Gentle Rain, Moon River, Moonglow, Rhapsody in Blue, Recado, and St. Louis Blues, to mention a few. The playing is delightfully impeccable and the recorded sound nearly so.  The trio sounds like it’s playing in a real space and is nicely spread between speakers with no exaggeration. The piano sound is perfect as is the sound of the many percussion instruments that are so imaginatively employed. The bass is solid; I could use just a tiny bit more focus on the attacks. Sound Liaison recordings are only available as high quality downloads. Many download formats are available including DSD and PCM 24bit/96kHz stereo. If you’re searching for real sounding intimate jazz, give the work of these folks a try. You’ll not be disappointed and it’s so good-natured, I’ll bet it will put a smile on your face.




The Magnificent Minnesota Orchestra – A World Class Ensemble

My mind has been on the Minnesota Orchestra lately. It all started with the third collection of Mercury Living Presence recordings, issued four or five months ago.  A number of those featured 1950s recordings of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, as it was then called, under the baton of Antal Dorati. I listened to these in wonder. I remember how good the sound was, but I hadn’t remembered how very excellent an orchestra Dorati was leading. In listening to the Beethoven “Eroica” Symphony and the Brahms second I was constantly amazed at the virtuosity and beauty  of tone the orchestra provided.

Beethoven Vanska

Flash forward four music directors (Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Sir Neville Marriner, Edo de Waart, and Eije Oue) to the present. I had the opportunity to download the Beethoven symphonies with Osmo Vanska, the current music director, conducting. Once again, I was undeniably impressed. I can’t understand why the Minnesota Orchestra is not spoken of in the same sentence with the Boston Symphony or the New York Philharmonic. In these Beethoven symphonies it plays just as well. The woodwinds are lovely and virtuosic, the horns are as good a section as I’ve heard anywhere; their playing in the famous trio to the third movement of the “Eroica,” as good as any I have ever heard. The string passages that skitter around in various movements are difficult but tossed aside like child’s play in Minnesota. There are Beethoven cycles as good as this, but there is none better. Surely if I have a yen to hear the “Pastoral” Symphony, it will now be Vanska and and the Minnesota Orchestra to whom I turn. Note: on disc the symphonies are Hybrid SACD.

Heldenleben Oue

As coincidence would have it, just as I finished the Beethoven cycle I had occasion to download a 16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC file from HDtracks of the Reference Recordings release of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben with the Minnesota Orchestra and its former music director, Eije Oue (also available on Reference Recordings HDCD RR-83). And in this, too, the orchestra covered itself in glory. Lush, detailed, exciting, and heroic are all words that come to mind to describe this performance. The download also included a suite of interludes from the opera Die Frau Ohne Schatten, which is awesome, dramatic, and romantic music we should hear more often! BIS did a good job at recording the Beethoven, but Reference Recordings does even better with the Strauss, as well as the many other recordings Oue made during his Minnesota tenure. Overall, my listening adventure from Dorati to Vanska and in between proved one thing to me, the Minnesota Orchestra is a national treasure. East coast snobs should listen to it more often and admit that it has earned its place in the “top five.”