When our writer Andy Fawcett suggested a Recommended New Releases (RNR) post nearly six years ago, little did I know it would morph into one of our most popular recurring features. As such, we felt the natural progression was to institute the recording equivalent of our very popular Star Component moniker. Thus, the Audiophilia Star Recordings of the Year was born. We have Star Components, now Star Recordings.

The staff of Audiophilia listened to hundreds of new recordings this year and published reviews of almost sixty in RNR and as standalone reviews. Some recordings nominated were not reviewed, but were in heavy rotation as review repertoire. The staff whittled the many nominations down to twelve we thought worthy of our Star moniker. There were so many incredible recordings this year. If you hunt through Audiophilia, you’ll find a treasure trove of recordings from which to build or add to your collection.

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After my introduction to London Philharmonic Orchestra Label recordings — the Jurowski Brahms 3/4 — I was a little concerned that the tricky (read awful) acoustic of London’s Royal Festival Hall may get the better of Bruckner. For what’s needed is a crack, in tune band (the LPO is surely that) and a refulgent acoustic. One out of two is not good enough these days.

Happily, this LPO sounds much better than the Brahms (a different engineering team was used). Adding to the fine engineering is a superb performance conducted by long-time Brucknarian, Stanisław Skrowaczewski. Skrowaczewski has never been in the top rank of conductors, but much like his B List counterparts Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Volkmar Andreae and the like, he consistently draws out fine performances of the Bruckner symphonies.

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In a recent post, I told you about a brief visit I had with Merrill Wettasinghe and his VERITAS monoblock power amplifiers and how I anticipated doing a full review in the near future. Well, the near future is now. Three weeks went by from the original visit and Merrill notified me that a pair was on its way. I had recently finished my review of his excellent THOR monoblocks and had waxed poetic. I still had them, in addition to my reference Hephaestus Harpocrates SE mono blocks, on hand for comparison.

Before I start I just want to reiterate a few salient points about the VERITAS mono amplifiers. Each amplifier is carved out of a single billet of aluminum with chambers having walls of one inch thickness in order to minimize resonance and vibration. All inputs and outputs are wired with Cardas copper Litz wire and all signal paths are kept as short and direct as possible. The VERITAS uses a fully balanced differential circuit which achieves extremely low noise and improved resolution. Copper rhodium binding posts and gold plated XLR inputs are employed to provide for superb connectivity, and to keep the noise floor as low as possible Merrill uses Synergistic Research Quantum tunneling fuses.

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[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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