Review: Tape of Moonlight Sonata, Debussy Rhapsody for Clarinet, & Weber Concertino for Clarinet

The first thing that strikes me about this tape is the intro piano work. It lets me hear just the piano and the room which being the two things that seldom change in these tapes helps me get my bearings… but this time it sounds so different. I almost didn’t recognize the piano and even the room sounds different. Can it be just the key of the music, or the difference in how it is played? It’s amazing to me how an instrument can shape shift.

Yes, it is doing it now, transmuting itself into a harder sound, slightly elevated and again it almost sounds like a different piano.

Then about 10 minutes in, we had a Monte Carlo moment… similar to my morning routine of warming up my ’70 muscle car on the way to breakfast and then flooring it on the way home… he took that piano and just spanked it all the way down the street. He had it fishtailing and sideways as it blew by and boy was it fun! The only thing I can say about it, is “holy crap”

I had to pause after that one. So now I know what that particular model of Grand Piano can do on the strip, balls out and I have to say it far exceeded my preconceived notions not to mention left me somewhat stunned at how damn good it sounded the whole time. It seemed like the loudest that I’ve ever heard that piano, and I’ve heard it a lot, yet it wasn’t really louder…

The energy was so well controlled and captured so beautifully on the tape that after the rush of discovering a piano can do that, comes the secondary rush of realizing your stereo system just did that.

Man was that fun. Beethoven had a Metallica moment and I was there to hear it. Trust me, this first 16 minutes of this tape would have to be one of the all time greatest tape machine demos. When you hear it on one, you suddenly get what all the fuss is about.

The dynamic range is just insane, yet it feels so well controlled and natural. It gets serious don’t get me wrong, but never is there a time when you fear a tweeter dislodging from your loudspeaker and leaving a ring-shaped tattoo on your forehead..

Also the driver of the Piano… Elizalde or Chung, not sure which, most impressive.

OK, recovery complete, now to the clarinet pieces by Zhai… this should be interesting.

WOW, where does all that weight come from? What beautiful tone it has. Incredible, It too has some amazing dynamic range. Stunning.

Been several years since I’ve heard a live clarinet, and I can assure you the ones I have heard did not sound like this. Listening to the quality of the sound is like waking up inside a movie that you were previously just watching. You know you are no longer watching it, because the sound became twice as real, the colors became twice as rich and you didn’t realize it could be this good.

I’m having a hard time getting over the dynamics of these tapes. It’s like comparing the experience of watching a cartoon character get its hand smashed by the piano lid (Tom & Jerry) and actually getting your real hand smashed by a real piano lid. CD dynamics vs. Master tape dynamics.

It’s no wonder back in day before amplifiers and electricity, well, it makes you wonder why the hell did we need amplifiers again? These are live instruments and if they got any louder they’d be dangerous.

I mean seriously, Clarinet is not the first instrument that comes to mind when we think of dynamics. Well, it was every bit the equal of the piano, and would be every bit the equal of a drum kit for that matter. In fact, live, every instrument has that dynamic ability, the only thing that really changes from one instrument to the next is the scale of it – meaning how big the sound gets.

The sound of this is so good. It frankly is a reminder of why classical music only sounds right when it’s real. You can’t reproduce it without compression and artifacts on mid-fi stereo equipment combined with consumer formats. For example, there is an entire orchestra of textures in the clarinet that you would never hear if not live right in front of you. Or in this case on tape with reference playback equipment.

Listening to these Clarinet Pieces makes me marvel at what we are all missing. By that I mean that being there live or listening on tape, a close second, is like eating a fine piece of perfectly aged and prepared steak, whereas listening to it on 16 bit digital is more like only getting to lick the meat.

Simply an incredible tape. Stunning sound quality, stunning space resolution, and most of all, the musicians are just mind numbingly talented and accomplished and always have mind numbingly expensive instruments. The best in the world. It comes through so clear on these tapes. It goes well beyond, “hey that sounds totally real” into “my God, who made that instrument?”

And regarding my statement about licking it, don’t worry, DSD comes somewhere in the middle, much more towards the higher side depending on your DAC, so you will get to eat a bit of your meat with Hi-Res downloads and thank God UltraAnalogue Recordings is offering this music in Hi-Res downloads because in any format, it will easily always be reference grade, ie. the best sound you will get from that particular format. No other recordings are this pure. Yes, there are other nuts like Ed doing live two-track recording, but it’s the recording chain itself that will separate out what is the best in the end, and when your shit is good enough to make the listener think he just drag raced a grand piano down the road and back… well what else can be said.

Happy listening, do as much of it as you can.

Steve Deckert