Which music needs good sound?

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hangos
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Which music needs good sound?

Post by hangos » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:02 pm

Having gone through a spell in which I found myself moving away from orchestral music as I was exploring string quartets, I found the quartets by their very nature much less dependent on sound quality than symphonic music.
Many of us will have heard Furtwaengler's Schubert 9 and enjoyed it despite the imperfect sound quality, but there are certain composers whose music seems to demand high quality sound, for example Lutoslawski - I can't begin to imagine what Livre pour orchestre would sound like in an old recording (yes, I know that most of his works weren't recorded until the 1960s anyway, but .....) Or take Debussy's orchestral works, which I've only heard in decent stereo sound - surely a lot of detail and colour goes missing in old recordings?

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Post by RebLem » Fri Mar 16, 2007 8:38 pm

I find that the music which benefits most from great digital sound is, counterintutively, very quiet music with a limited dynamic range--17th century virginal music, for example, or dulcimer music. The reason is that on old LPs, half the sound you are likely to hear is hiss and the sound of the stylus in the grooves. But digital recording and reproduction leaves you with just the sound of the music--and then, the most irritating thing about listening to it may be cars passing by on the street outside, or the hum of the air conditioning or the refrigerator in your home.
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anasazi
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Post by anasazi » Sat Mar 17, 2007 12:34 am

For me, sound quality is pretty high on the list and in fact I do have a lot of difficulty listening to old tapes, acetates and 78's. I make no distinction between solo piano, chamber works or orchestral. I just like to clearly hear everything being played. Like it was being played 'live'. There is a visceral element to music that I require to enjoy it to the maximum.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Mar 17, 2007 12:39 pm

:?:

I thought it all needed good sound.
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hangos
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all music needs good sound

Post by hangos » Sat Mar 17, 2007 2:12 pm

Dear Corlyss
Of course all performances need good sound, but my original question for this thread was "Is there any music which loses its raison d'etre by not having been recorded in good sound" or,conversely, how can a great performance from,say, pre 1950 transcend its sonic limitations? Anasazi feels that the latter premise does not work for him, and I know what he means. Conversely, the best sonic engineering in the world cannot make a so-so performance into a great or enjoyable one!

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Re: all music needs good sound

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Mar 17, 2007 2:48 pm

hangos wrote:how can a great performance from,say, pre 1950 transcend its sonic limitations?
Remastering?
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hangos
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to a laconic lady

Post by hangos » Sat Mar 17, 2007 3:05 pm

You really are a woman of few words!
You know exactly what I mean, don't you? Even remastering can't always solve the inherent problem of scratchy or distorted sound which omits details and becomes a trial for human hearing!
Yours
The waffler (by comparison!)

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Re: to a laconic lady

Post by Corlyss_D » Sat Mar 17, 2007 3:12 pm

hangos wrote:You really are a woman of few words!
You know exactly what I mean, don't you? Even remastering can't always solve the inherent problem of scratchy or distorted sound which omits details and becomes a trial for human hearing!
Yours
The waffler (by comparison!)
Well, I take your point that even remastering can't compensate for the inherent weaknesses of the recording equipment in use at the time the master was created. However, years ago I heard some pretty compelling digital remasterings of Caruso that were almost as good as current recorded sound. I for one don't generally object to, say, the pops and crackles guaranteed by the Pearl label. I cut my teeth on 78s my mother collected in the 30s and 40s, so I don't find the sound either objectionable or destructive of a good listening experience. On the other hand, if the artist stinks, the pops and crackles are a definite plus, adding interest to an otherwise boring obligation. Rosa Ponselle is going to sound just fine to my ear against Clara Butt (pace any Butt fans out there in televisionland).

How was that for more words? :D
Last edited by Corlyss_D on Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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hangos
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woman of more words

Post by hangos » Sat Mar 17, 2007 3:20 pm

Dear Contessa
Your recent bout of relative loquaciousness was very gratifying, and I know what you mean - I remember as a boy listening to scratchy 78s of Gigli and Caruso, and the emotion shone through far more vivdly than it does from any manufactured celebrity tenor on modern CDs!
:D :D :D :D

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Re: Which music needs good sound?

Post by Haydnseek » Sat Mar 17, 2007 3:25 pm

hangos wrote:...I found the quartets by their very nature much less dependent on sound quality than symphonic music.
Of all ensembles the string quartet is the most difficult for me to find recordings that please. So many sound like a sawmill working to a deadline or a roomful of cats in heat. I'm never sure if the recording team or the musicians are most responsible for this. I do find good recordings that satisfy however.

As for analog with its surface noise and tape hiss - not a problem with most orchestral music but I really appreciate the silence you get with digital methods around a piano or chamber group or with highly transparent orchestral music such as Webern or Stravinsky.
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hangos
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Post by hangos » Sat Mar 17, 2007 4:02 pm

Haydnseek wrote
Of all ensembles the string quartet is the most difficult for me to find recordings that please. So many sound like a sawmill working to a deadline or a roomful of cats in heat. I'm never sure if the recording team or the musicians are most responsible for this. I do find good recordings that satisfy however.
You certainly have a point - I was referring to orchestral detail and colour as opposed to the fewer strands of a quartet, but I do have a similar problem to yours. I suppose it depends on one's sonic preferences.
To quote an example, I prefer the extreme detail (tempered by warmth) of the 1977-81 DG Tokyo Quartet's Bartok cycle to the fuller, more reverberant sound of the second Takacs on Decca (London in USA?) as I find it suits the music better. The Quartetto Italiano's lush,warm and full sound works well for me in Schubert and late Beethoven, whereas others might find it too well upholstered. In the Shostakovich Quartet's Shostakovich cycle, I find their sometimes shrill but always clear sound more appealing than the more modern Eder Quartet cycle on Naxos, which is also very detailed but more rounded and full.
Which recordings of your favourite quartets do you find sonically satisfying?
I would be intrigued to know!

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Re: all music needs good sound

Post by anasazi » Sat Mar 17, 2007 6:42 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
hangos wrote:how can a great performance from,say, pre 1950 transcend its sonic limitations?
Remastering?
Engineers are doing more and more remarkable things with old tapes. And I don't doubt that eventually they may manage to make some of these old masters sound even better. What that involves however, and if it changes the performance itself, it open to question.
"Take only pictures, leave only footprints" - John Muir.

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Post by Barry » Sat Mar 17, 2007 7:06 pm

I generally have a pretty high tolerance for historical recordings. Most of my favorite performances of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies come from the 40s and early 50s.

But there is some orchestral music I have a tough time enjoying in old, scratchy sound. The Bruckner symphonies are in that category. The Richard Strauss tone poems probably fit into that category for me too. I'm just not an audiophile. The sound doesn't need to be ideal even for this music, but I prefer at least something from the stereo era.
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Post by John F » Tue Mar 27, 2007 3:16 pm

<< take Debussy's orchestral works, which I've only heard in decent stereo sound - surely a lot of detail and colour goes missing in old recordings? >>

Not if the conductor managed the orchestra's internal balances well and the microphone placement and sound engineering were well done. Recordings made on 78 rpm by Koussevitzky/Boston Symphony and Toscanini/BBC Symphony convey more "information" about that score, including the timbres of the instruments and ensemble, than you'll often hear live in the concert hall today.

Actually, recordings and broadcasts aim at a degree of clarity and brilliance that is unrealistic in real life. Debussy would have been astonished at what could be heard of "La Mer" from the Koussevitzky and Toscanini 78s, not to mention stereo and surround sound. Strauss, a conductor of great experience and repute, wrote parts in his orchestral and operatic music that the audience wasn't meant to hear, including some notes not even playable on their instruments!

My feeling is that there's much about music making that's more important than (unrealistically) detailed and brilliant sound. Surface and substance.
John Francis

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Post by DSzymborski » Wed Mar 28, 2007 3:32 pm

4'33"
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hangos
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4'33"

Post by hangos » Wed Mar 28, 2007 3:54 pm

Simon and Garfunkel had a point, and so did Igor when he wrote " I look forward eagerly to his next work". You also have a point, Dan - scratches, swishes, warps and blips would totally spoil the wonderful stillness of anticipation we are supposed to feel.

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Post by DSzymborski » Wed Mar 28, 2007 4:26 pm

<I>You also have a point, Dan - scratches, swishes, warps and blips would totally spoil the wonderful stillness of anticipation we are supposed to feel.</I>

Nah, I just can't resist an opportunity to be flippant.
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Re: Which music needs good sound?

Post by Hondo » Thu Mar 29, 2007 12:40 pm

hangos wrote: Many of us will have heard Furtwaengler's Schubert 9 and enjoyed it despite the imperfect sound quality, but there are certain composers whose music seems to demand high quality sound, for example Lutoslawski
For many years I would get upset with Donald Vroon, the editor of "American Record Guide," because he never had anything good to say about historic recordings (no matter how great the interpretation might be) because the sound of those recordings was poor (or at least, not up to his standards). As I'm getting older (and my hearing is not what it used to be), I can see Donald's point about wanting to listen to classical music recordings with excellent sound. I find myself listening to my Schnabel, Weingartner and Furtwangler recodings primarlily for their interpretive insights (especially Furtwangler's Bruckner 9th). For general listening, though, I will mostly spin my stereo CD's and LP's.

Gabe

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Re: Which music needs good sound?

Post by DSzymborski » Thu Mar 29, 2007 1:54 pm

<I>
For many years I would get upset with Donald Vroon, the editor of "American Record Guide," </I>

I believe this category includes pretty much everyone who's familiar with the unbelievably loud, opinionated Vroon.
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Post by Jack Kelso » Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:50 am

'Guess I'm just not a fan of those historical recordings of great symphonic works. For me it's like getting "a kiss over the telephone". And although I enjoy hearing them on radio occasionally, I'm not a worshiper at the shrines of Furtwängler, Mengelberg or Koussevitsky.

Some composers, I agree, need better recorded sound than others: Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Richard Strauss. Their orchestration is part and parcel of their musical ideas, whereas with Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms the instrumentation is more, well---conventional. The last two especially need conductors who are sympathetic to their thicker orchestration---but that may be another theme altogether.

I'm less particular about older recordings of piano music.

Jack
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Post by Sapphire » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:49 pm

I think that with more complex pieces (i.e. involving more instruments) a better quality of sound system pays off in terms of ability to identify the individual sounds. When I upgraded my hi-fi kit last year I took with me to the dealer two pieces that I know very well: Schumann’s Op 17 Fantasie, and Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It was obvious to me that the sound quality for both pieces went up as the budget went up, but it went up most for the Schubert (andante). Just for fun, I got the assistant to demonstrate using the best kit they had in the demo room at the time. This wasn't difficult as I think he quite liked the piece by Schubert and was fascinated to see how good it could get. The sound was truly superb and I’ve never heard anything like it outside a concert hall. I had no intention of spending that much money, but all the same I came out several thousands pounds GB worse off than I went in.


Saphire

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Post by slofstra » Sun Apr 01, 2007 9:10 pm

That was uncanny. I just finished listening to Furtwangler's Schubert's 9th (2 movements only). Came back upstairs to finish the NYT and read a couple of threads, and voila, here is a discussion of the very piece I had just played. What are the chances of that?

I've listened to classical music for many years on nothing more than a simple Sony boombox, and my car stereo. Just last Fall I upgraded to a fairly decent low-end stereo audiophile setup. I also built an almost soundproof listening room in our new condo - no traffic noise, and I can barely hear the furnace, and I can turn up the Furtwangler. It's been a pleasure rediscovering many of my old CDs.

But there is a slight downside. Anything sounds better on the new setup, but my new stereo certainly foregrounds the miking and setup of the recording. And this can be irritating if setup badly.

As far as Furtwangler's Schubert - the woodwinds sound just awful. I was very much impressed by the performance - could it played like this today? But after a couple of movements I had had enough of those trebly woodwinds. This is a great performance, though. The other day, I played Dorati's Tchaikovsky's 1812. Wow, those cannons and bells. So to answer the question, I would say: music with cannons benefits the most from a good stereo.

Seriously, the question is difficult to answer. Which probably makes it a good candidate for a government research grant. I could attempt a thesis, which is likely incorrect, but that's never stopped me before. So I would suggest that music in which timbre matters as much or more than the notes stands to benefit the most from good sound reproduction. For example, electric piano won't benefit much, a violin sonata or acoustic guitar will benefit a great deal, and the human voice benefits the most.

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