I received two CDs at the office last week for which I have been waiting patiently but with some excitement. They are remastering jobs from Esoteric, the Japanese high end manufacturer of what I consider the best gear in digital. The designers are brilliant and take great care to retain musicality in the digital domain. Not an easy task. As I opened the package, I wondered whether the same care would be taken with the software division.
I chose the more popular of the two CDs for the first review, Manuel de Falla’s magnificent ballet The Three Cornered Hat. Peppered with fantastic tunes, brimming with orchestral brilliance, this most famous of de Falla’s works receives a justly famous, definitive performance and recording. The team — L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande conducted by Ernest Ansermet (who gave the premiere of the work in 1919 for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe), with soprano Teresa Berganza, recorded (1961) in the fabulous acoustics of Victoria Hall, Geneva by crack Decca team, James Walker and Roy Wallace.
The recording always gets raves for the natural sound, the extraordinarily deep and wide soundstage and the faithful replication of the instruments. But the performance is equally good, not always the case on Suisse Romande recordings. In fact, the orchestra plays fabulously for Ansermet. The soloists are first rate and ensemble (very tricky in this piece) is spot on and retains much of the Spanish flavour Falla requires.
I have this recording on every conceivable mainstream format. I’ve played it, conducted it, even shouted the ‘Ole’ under Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, another great de Falla interpreter. I never get tired of the music or this particular performance. The Esoteric CD surpasses all my digital copies by far, running my mint Testament LP very, very close in immediacy of sound, air surrounding the instruments, sense of space, etc. In fact, I could live with this one copy if the need arose. Yes, it’s that good.
I had a chance to listen to the CD on some very expensive Esoteric digital separates. My God! It was so good, so musical. Esoteric charges a premium for these CDs (US$59.95), but if you love a particular performance, buy with confidence.
The Esoteric remasters are produced without compromise, using all Esoteric gear and choosing the finest master tape from which to work. The dual layer CD/SACD uses JVC’s outstanding XR-CD encoding for the CD layer (my review source).