[The turntable Vegan plate above is nla, but looked perfect as a lead in to this definitely non-Vegan get together - Ed].

When my wife and several of her friends told me they were considering opening a small local catering service for freshly cooked Indonesian food, I snapped into action: I arranged an event at my apartment in New York City.

I invited a small group of my local Audiophilia/audiophile friends to taste a sampling of what these ladies were up to, so as to help them along and encourage them. If my friends had exceptional discerning ears, I reasoned, then they might also have exceptional discerning tastebuds too, right? Besides, this would be a festive opportunity to listen to fine music, eat, drink and be merry—and to personally thank them for all their advice, generosity and encouragement towards transforming my audio system over the last several years into the high-end sound quality system it is now.

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Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Ann Murray, Barbara Bonney, Kurt Moll
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House / Sir Andrew Davis

Opus Arte 3 CD set (185:00)
Recorded live by the BBC at the Royal Opera House in 1995.

One can never have enough Der Rosenkavaliers. One of Richard Strauss’ masterpieces and the greatest comic opera since Mozart.

If you know the opera well, you’ll have the very famous EMI recording with Karajan with an all star cast featuring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, produced by her husband Walter Legge, and played by his creation, the Philharmonia Orchestra. It’s justly famous. If you truly love the opera, you’ll have the Decca/Solti, too. A wonderful recording with the Vienna Philharmonic and soprano Regine Crespin at her incredible best.

As in all successful recordings, the EMI and Decca sets have voices perfectly matched to the characters — three sopranos in the lead with a true bass handling the comedy (the oafish and horny Baron Ochs).

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Shostakovich – The Complete String Quartets [8 CDs – 480 mins]
Pacifica Quartet
Cedille Box 1003 (2014)

It was inevitable that the four volumes of the Pacifica Quartet’s highly reviewed cycle of Shostakovich’s string quartets would be re-released as a boxed set. These fifteen works surely represent the most significant contribution in the near two centuries since Beethoven’s defining statement of the genre, and the Pacifica’s performances have quickly been hailed as definitive. Each volume also offers a contemporary work by another Russian composer, for historical context. Having awarded Vol.3 as my 2013 Disc of the Year, this compilation was a welcome opportunity to hear the two earlier releases.

Composed over the period 1938 to 1974, the year before his death, these fifteen quartets span a deeply troubled time in Russia’s history, including a period when Shostakovich was proscribed by the Stalinist authorities; yet, perhaps even more so, reflect his turbulent personal life. The early quartets are accessible, even lush at times, reflecting a strong sense of classical heritage. From there, a bleakness and gradual darkening of mood prevails, with the final trio of works embracing a spartan, acerbic modernity that I personally struggle to appreciate. The one constant throughout is the stunning virtuosity of the Pacificas, who respond with apparent effortlessness to the vast array of textures and lightning changes of pace and mood.

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The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) usually plays digital tag with its German counterpart, the Berliner Philharmoniker (BPO). On Twitter, Facebook, blogs, community outreach, etc, they’re both the benchmarks. Chicago and Amsterdam, take note. However, where digital concerts are concerned, the BPO beat the LSO to the imaginary post by a long way with its brilliantly conceived (and very expensive to produce — underwritten by Deutsche Bank) ‘Digital Concert Hall‘ (DCH).

Not sure if the DCH was trademarked, but the LSO decided not to go the huge investment route of TV studios, digitalHD cameras, directors, producers, etc. Rather, they tagged on to (licensed) a service new to me called ‘Digital Theatre’. Basically, the best of London dance, opera, theatre and music. These are recorded concerts, not live, the significant benefit of subscribing to the Berlin service.

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Ralph Vaughan Williams. Composer of A London Symphony.

Ralph Vaughan Williams. Composer of A London Symphony.

Beethoven : Leonore Overture No. 3
Barber : Adagio for Strings
Arutiunian : Trumpet Concerto
Vaughan Williams : Symphony No. 2 “London Symphony”

Victoria Symphony conducted by Tania Miller
Ryan Cole, trumpet

December 1, 2014. Royal Theatre, Victoria, BC — A challenging program from the Victoria Symphony on a frosty Monday evening. Fresh from what should have been the most difficult program of the season, Britten’s massive War Requiem, conductor Tania Miller programmed Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Both pieces make great demands on the orchestra. The Vaughan Williams A London Symphony is no cakewalk, either. In addition, the orchestra’s young principal trumpet got to dazzle the audience with the third most famous Concerto for the trumpet (after Haydn and Hummel), Alexander Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto in A-flat major (1950).

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John Adams: Doctor Atomic Symphony (2007); Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986); Harmonielehre (1984-85)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian

Chandos CHSA 5129 (70:15)

I was in the audience for both Peter Oundjian performances of John Adams’ mighty Harmonielehre over the past couple of Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) seasons. The first performance by this very improved orchestra of the incredibly difficult score was more of a run through. Oundjian’s head was in the score from beginning to end. If you have ever seen the score, you would forgive Oundjian the ‘see you all at the end’ attitude.

The performance the following season was much more assured. Oundjian enjoying Adams’ magnificent contribution to American orchestral music. But, even that performance had its innaccuracies, primarily in the percussion section. No matter, by this time Oundjian had the measure of Adams’ virtuosic passages and more importantly the elegiac melodic lines, the glue which holds this masterpiece together.

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About a year ago I reviewed Mojo Audio’s upgraded Mac Mini music server with its at-the-time newest linear external power supply: the Joule III.

An impressive accomplishment by Mojo Audio, the upgrade turns a Mac Mini into a first- class but reasonably priced music server —with emphasis on a clean, natural, neutral sound (e.g., no ‘coloring’), and it seemed hard to believe it could get any better—after all, I thought, what more could be done with a Mac Mini?

But since then Mojo Audio’s owner, the ever energetic, restless, optimistic and forward-looking Benjamin Zwickel has been tinkering and experimenting with a variety of newer upgrades and peripherals such as a Joule IV power supply, and now the newest one: the Joule V.

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In a previous post for Audiophilia, I stated that I was anticipating the return of Merrill Audio’s Veritas amps for a full review. In the interim, the smaller and less expensive sibling of the Veritas, the Thors, were shipped to me. I unpacked them, attached the included Stillpoint Ultramini footers and installed them in the system using my Waveform Fidelity power cords and speaker cables and Antipodes Reference interconnects. My Hephaestus Harpocrates SE amps were set aside as the Thors began their burn-in.

The Thors were packaged professionally and protected in a suspension system, double boxed. A nice touch was the little red pouch containing the Stillpoint Ultramini footers. These had to be screwed in to the base plate. On the bottom front of the base plate there is also a standby/mute button which comes in handy. A subtle (my wife disagrees) red indicator light in the same location lets you know the amps are on. The amps only come with balanced connections. Also included was a polishing cloth for each amp. A polishing cloth for amplifiers? These amps are finished in high gloss black, usually the purview of speakers, and look gorgeous.

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