Well, one great album and one sort of good one. The best is My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, which has some very good tunes on it and some world class singing from Jim James, whose high tenor and falsetto exude confidence underpinned with charming vulnerability. He might be one of the best lead rock singers around these days. He really gets to shine on “Only Memory Remains,” which is offered in another mix on a bonus cut on the deluxe CD set.
Mumford and Sons has released Wilder Mind, their first non acoustic album. I don’t get this. The band has created a folk revival sound that has taken the world by storm and blanded it out to sound pretty much like any other heavy rock band. There are a few good songs like “Believe,” and “Broad Shouldered Beasts,” anunusual song about a guy taking his girl to see the big city only to find her scared of it.
But that’s not what I really want to talk about. It’s the sound, which is absolutely horrible. To make everything sound big and loud, there’s way too much reverberation, even the vocals have it to excess, and when drums get going loud with or without electric bass and/or synth we get a welter of sound without much definition. The bass notes are there but the attacks are absent. The drum strokes sound like banging, not playing, cymbals go to mush. It’s the kind of sound that makes you rush to find a favorite album to prove to yourself that there’s nothing wrong with your sound system. Wilder Mind is the worst; The Waterfall manages to sound musical once in a while, but surely not always. It’s all loud and louder, little if any dynamic range.
I went back to Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City, one of the best albums of 2014 (Rolling Stone though it “the” best). Everything sounded just as good as always. Nothing wrong with my system. The scariest thing of all is that listeners seem OK with this. Go read the comments on Amazon.com. There are only one or two that call out the album for its ghastly sound, when anyone who cares about sound ought to be crying foul. Which tells me that no one cares about sound. Really?
I downloaded both of these albums from HDtracks at 24bit/96kHz resolution and have to tell you that my rant is not anything against HDtracks. The tracks downloaded easily and faster then you might think. the fault is in the lavel;s mastering. Actually the higher resolution downloads probably helped. I hate to think what these albums would sound like in MP3 resolution. If any producers are listening, go back to the Vampire Weekend album. Replicate that and bring music back. Get rid of the loud gelatinous noise and discover dynamic range again.
I must confess that though I had heard of composer Niccolo Castiglioni (1932-1996), I had never heard any of his music before this week. Considered an intellectual and an aesthete, the Italian writer of music was early influenced by American John Cage, and in fact spent four years in America. Much of his music can at first sound distant and sparse, but after some listening, one comes to admire the crystal clarity of his writing.
Italian maestro Gianandrea Noseda conducts a disc’s worth of Castiglioni’s music on a new Chandos CD release. Of interest to all will be the totally accessible, listener friendly La Buranella, which consists of seven arrangements of harpsichord music by the 18th century Italian composer Baldassarre Galuppi. Castiglioni does for Galuppi what Stravinsky did for Pergolesi in his Pulcinella. The orchestration is full of magical touches with lots of tinkly sounds – celeste, xylophone, orchestra bells, harp, harpsichord, and the like. Overall the piece is utterly charming and ought to be heard more often. The other two compositions on the disc, Altisonanza and Salmo XIX (Psalm 19, which adds chorus and two sopranos to the orchestra) are of a more sparse and stringent nature. It will require several listening sessions to make complete sense of them, but the result is worth the effort. Noseda, who is exclusive to Chandos, leads superb performances (as usual for this conductor), and the recorded sound is ideal, transparent yet warm.
…to write a symphony. Consider the case of English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972), a nearly forgotten musician who wrote 32 symphonies, completing 14 of these in his eighties, and 7 in his early nineties. And they are not works that sound in any way like they were written by an old man. Even the last ones are bold, surprising, majestic, imaginative, and often disturbing. Many years ago, Naxos began a series of recordings that was to cover Brian’s complete symphonic output and most of these issues were performed by the Irish National Orchestra or the National Orchestra of the Ukraine, and the Moscow Philharmonic. Then the series noticeably ceased until recently when it was picked up by the New Russia State Symphony, conducted by Alexander Walker. The latest disc from this collaboration has just been released on the Naxos label and contains Symphonies 6 “Sinfonia Tragica,” 28 “Sinfonia in C Minor,” 29, and 31.
Walker and his fine musicians are alert to one of the main features of Brian’s music, its abrupt mood changes. Usually there’s a march somewhere, either fast or slow, and the thorough development of small motifs. The scoring is heavy on brass and on the other hand, delicate harp and tuned percussion instruments are often used. Brian can easily establish a pastoral mood, but then obliterates it with some bold, heroic idea. Walker gets good engineering , and the Naxos recording sounds rich and robust yet detailed, but I have to confess that I find Myer Fredman on Lyrita to be more subtle in performing the 6th symphony and note that Charles Mackerras give a splendid performance and gets a better recording for Symphony No. 31 from EMI (now discontinued, but it can be found). For symphonies 28 and 29, Walker pretty much has a clear field and since Naxos offers its discs at such a low price, duplication wouldn’t break the bank.