My door bell rang the other day while I was watching the England v Costa Rica game (World Cup 2014, for those few not watching). The postman smiled and handed me a stack of packages I knew to be CDs. He’s a daily visitor. The Tinalley String Quartet’s CD/press package was particularly impressive and, at the time, I made no connection between this Australian quartet and the dull game I was watching. Please, stay with me.

The Tinalley String Quartet formed in 2003 at The University of Melbourne and each player has impressive orchestral, teaching and chamber music careers. The quartet has made some important musical connections over the years, studying with quartets like the Tokyo, Takàcs and St. Lawrence. And, like our great St. Lawrence Quartet, the Tinalley Quartet won first prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition (2007). As part of the prize package, the quartet was awarded the opportunity to make this recording at The Banff Centre, in Banff, Alberta. I’m not sure why the it took seven years to complete. No matter, though, the CD is delightful on all levels.

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One of the great pleasures of running a magazine like Audiophilia is our annual general meeting, we christened ‘#audiophiliacamp’. Audiophiliacamp happens every summer at the country home of Mike Levy and his lovely wife Maryanne. Mike is an Audiophilia contributor and his other gig is designing some of the world’s finest speakers.

The home is stunning and situated on seven acres of land on New York State’s Hudson River, two hours north of the center of the world.

The drive from Toronto is easy. We rent a nice cruising car and hit the road early. For, in Malden-on-the- Hudson, there are great restaurants and wine shops waiting. Oh yes…and one meeting. Also waiting this year was the first production model of Mike’s newest speaker, the Alta Audio FRM-2.

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Before I start this review, I feel it incumbent I share with you a few salient facts about my relationship with Michael Levy of Alta Audio. You can be the judge as to the efficacy of this review.

First and foremost I have been a friend of Mike Levy for at least thirty-five years and owned the first speaker he designed. I bought them after hearing a one on one comparison in my living room with the venerable KEF 105 2s. That was quite an achievement, since at that time the KEF’s were considered one of the premier speakers in the Hi-End.

Over the years Mike often used me as a sounding board (no pun intended) for his ideas and I tried to be as objective and critical as I could. He wasn’t looking for a ‘yes man’ extolling his achievements, but rather an honest evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of his design efforts. And, so I did. It proved more difficult than I imagined. Was I being overly critical in an attempt to be unbiased and going too far in that direction or was I being too agreeable so I wouldn’t upset my friend who was depending on my accurate feedback?

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German clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld (1856 - 1907) must have been one hell of a player. His artistry nudged a semi retired Brahms to write the seminal chamber work for the instrument, the Clarinet Quintet (1891), a fine trio and the two most famous sonatas for the instrument.

The same could be said for Austrian clarinettist Anton Stadler (1753 - 1812). His playing inspired Mozart to write an equally wonderful Clarinet Quintet (1789) and the instrument’s greatest Concerto (1791).

Both quintets fit nicely onto one CD and most clarinet players in first chair orchestral positions or those rarities having a go at a solo career take a shot at them. The recorded standards for this pairing have been very high. In fact, many players of all styles — US, German system, or the old standbys, Brits attached to their Boosey & Hawkes 1010s, sound superb in this repertoire.

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I first discovered the Bergmann Audio turntables during an event at a local dealer. Before I heard a note, I fell in love with the look of these Danish Bauhaus beauties. All straight lines, simple design and an air bearing, tangential tracking arm that looked as elegant as the turntable to which it was attached. Since many air bearing arms and tangential trackers have been a nuisance to setup and maintain, having two difficult technologies in one arm and looking awfully easy to use, I was doubly intrigued.

Bergmann Audio makes three turntables — the Sindre, Sleipner and the least expensive Magne. In Nordic mythology, Magne means ’strength’. Magne was the son of the Nordic God, Thor.

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One of the first major discoveries that an audiophile comes across as they attempt to upgrade the quality of their system is how a high-end power cable can significantly increase sound quality as compared to a cheap stock cord; and what a surprise it is. I say surprise, because on the face of it, it appears to make no sense when you think about it logically/scientifically. But, when you start listening, it can be truly startling. The soundstage can become higher, longer and wider in sometimes dramatic ways. Bass can become fuller and tighter, and imaging can improve. This can be so when using such cables for sources, such as a DAC, CD player, or transport, or for power amplifiers and power supplies/conditioners. The history of high-end power cables goes back to the late 1970s and early 1980s with the company Monster, Inc. playing a leading PR role.

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I think it’s in every Englishman’s DNA that the gene ‘Must love Elgar’ exists. I have it, but as an identical twin, it was halved and diluted at birth. Therefore, I love Elgar’s Violin Concerto, In The South, and the 1st Symphony. Froissart, the Cello Concerto and his oratorios I can do without (ever played The Music Makers?!). The 2nd Symphony is acknowledged not as successful as the 1st Symphony, and, it is a work with which I have a love/hate relationship. At times, I think it a masterpiece, masterfully orchestrated, with great structure and fantastic tunes. Other times, it simply rubs me the wrong, jingoistic way.

That said, I do love the quote from Shelley that Elgar inscribes on the opening page: ‘Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight!’. It is when a conductor follows the ’spirit’ of these great words that the ’smile’ and ‘beauty’ of this massive work overcomes its portentousness and pretense. And, my friends, conductor Daniel Barenboim and his great orchestra, the Staatskapelle Berlin, capture the pure essence of them perfectly.

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Our conductor, Sir Simon Rattle calls Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) the ‘echt Romantik’. I’ve always found him that way, especially in his four symphonies where a bigger canvas than his piano scores usually gets his Florestan in gear over his Eusebius.1

1. [Eric Sams' essay on Florestan and Eusebius 1]

Even in the slower movements of the symphonies, there is a restlessness that I think Schumann is enjoying. A little like feeling sorry for yourself — for him, maybe over his wife’s long time affection for his buddy Brahms or the straight out melancholia from which he suffered most of his adult life? In any case, within the four symphonies, you’ll hear the great man at his very finest. Elegant symphonies, beautifully structured in the very best Romantic symphonic tradition.

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