Sometimes, the late afternoons of the lazy, hazy days of mid summer in Victoria means serious couch time with Tidal HiFi and our SONOS system. Nothing serious for review, just casual listening and reflection. Wine, too. Okanagan appellation, of course.

Because of the diverse range of repertoire on Tidal, at times these lazy listening sessions can get serious. Twas thus a few nights ago. My wife was late getting home and I was really enjoying the Mozart Horn Concertos. I was playing a celebrated performance known from my youth and I searched the app to see just how deep the Tidal HiFi bin went. Deep. Really deep. Tidal has almost thirty versions of these magnificent concertos, the pinnacle of horn repertoire.

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From our good friends at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the greatest audio show on earth:

‘This year for the RMAF we have joined with some of our exhibitors to offer an affordable system for our newcomers to the audio industry and our budget conscious guests. It is understandable that many high end systems can be intimidating both technically and financially. Our friends in the industry have been gracious enough to give their time and expertise to help design some systems in the $500, $1000, and $1500 range. We hope to remove some of the intimidation with these offerings. The $500 system will consist of one pair of speakers and a digital set-up. The $1000 system will consist of one pair of speakers and an analog set-up. The $1500 system will consist of one pair of speakers and headphone set-up. It is our goal to help everyone enjoy quality sound without straining the wallet and becoming frustrated from lack of knowledge.’

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Beethoven: Piano Concertos 3 & 4
Maria João Pires, piano
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Daniel Harding

Onyx 4125 [71:30]

Two major artists create Beethoven magic, here.

Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires has long been a star on the international circuit beloved by music lovers and pianophiles who like their artists to walk softly but carry a big stick. No star aura, just deep musicianship. Talking of big sticks, England’s second baton, after Sir Simon, Daniel Harding has just scored big with the Orchestre de Paris and takes over in 2016. Harding’s one to watch and grows in stature every year. And certainly a long way from the years when he was labelled ‘Baby Rattle’. In fact when the next Berlin Phil vote comes around in years to come, I would imagine he’d be a front runner.

The two musicians, accompanied by the sterling Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Harding is the MD) spin Beethoven’s immortal works with a seriousness and gravitas that captured my attention immediately. From the hushed opening of both concertos, to the depth of the sublime slow movements to the fantasy of the finales, Pires and Harding are in perfect step. And the tone with which Pires plays is utterly beautiful.

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We know that damping and resonance control is the name of the game in high end analogue turntable design, but this seems a little like over kill.

I can only assume that we achieved similar damping and control results with a much cheaper option.

That said, the sight of any new turntable intrigues audiophiles, and this one is a cast iron cracker. But, expensive at US$6500.

Fern & Roby says ‘In terms of audio engineering, our design is defined by a high-mass and balanced platter concept using a 70-pound cast iron plinth to reduce resonance and achieve vibration-dampening throughout the system. It has a cast and turned 35-pound bronze platter, dynamically balanced to 1000 rpm. This is a crucial aspect of the bearing design–our single point bearing and center-of-mass design is a low-contact and low-friction concept that takes advantage of the dynamically balanced platter to get the best performance.’

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June 27, 2015. McPherson Playhouse, Victoria BC — Eliane Elias was in town for the Victoria International Jazz Fest and is touring much of the west coast and Europe for the summer. Elias is the Brazilian pianist/singer and a foremost interpreter of that country’s native rhythms, Bossa Nova especially.

Elias already has a foot up on the legion of other jazz musicians who base much of their repertoire on the Brazilian rhythms developed by João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá and, of course, the master, Antonio Carlos Jobim. Her native language is Portuguese. And with all the inflections Brazilians have coloured their language.

Jobim and all the other great Brazilian songwriters have the incredibly sexy language with which to work. And like the most famous Brazilian singer, Astrud Gilberto, even when they sing in English with a heavy accent, it sounds wonderful.

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One of the barriers facing streaming services is catalogue availability. Until now, Tidal HiFi was by far the best streaming option for audiophiles and has its jazz and classical repertoire catalogues quite well ‘curated’ (let’s agree to mothball that flavour of the month term).

New kid on the block is Naxos in the guise of ClassicsOnline HD, a streaming and downloading service utilizing the 150 labels that make up the Naxos Records distribution empire. That’s a hell of a classical catalogue.

Naxos calls it ‘the first high-definition and lossless classical music streaming service that uses adaptive bit-rate streaming technology.’

Even though labels such as Decca, DG, EMI and Sony are absent, the Naxos catalogue is vast and growing and will bring great pleasure to classical music fans who can hear the difference between iTunes and a CD.

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The Sonos Wireless HiFi System has a new best friend.

I received an email from Flexson’s PR department suggesting that I review their products. They make accessories for the SONOS Wireless System (Sonos) that I had just reviewed. Timely. The accessories were not really of interest, but what did catch my eye was Flexson’s VinylPlay turntable. USB/Preamp onboard and ready to rock and roll with the wireless Sonos system.

The turntable looks awfully familiar. Rega Planar familiar. Lots of knockoffs (homages) these days. And why not? The Rega is still the best value in entry level tables and certainly the best arm. Flexson even throws in an Audio Technica cart. A quick setup — unpacking, counterweight, cart guard, and you’re ready to hear Taylor Swift in all her glory.

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Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Saturday, it came as quite a surprise during my usual morning routine of checking social media. A German blogger of some note suggested the Berliner Philharmoniker had chosen its next Chief Conductor and the story was being reposted by every classical writer on the internet. The choice was Russian conductor, Kirill Petrenko. It turns out the German was right. They had chosen the Russian.

Petrenko has a great reputation with orchestras he directs, primarily the Bavarian State Opera and Bayreuth. Interestingly, he has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker just three times, and mostly esoteric programs including Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Elgar. No Beethoven, Bruckner or Brahms symphonies, the bread and butter of the orchestra’s mainstream repertoire.

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