Classical CD Reviews

Nojima Plays RAVEL: Miroirs; Gaspard de la Nuit – Reference Recordings

With comments from engineer Keith O. Johnson

Published on November 10, 2006

Nojima Plays RAVEL: Miroirs; Gaspard de la Nuit – Reference Recordings
Nojima Plays RAVEL: Miroirs; Gaspard de la Nuit – Reference Recordings HDCD Remaster, RR-35CD, 49:19 ***:

Many audiophile fans of both Ravel’s piano music and the amazing virtuosity of pianist Minoru Nojima will probably already have this magnificent disc in their collection.  The two Ravel suites are some of his most interesting and atmospheric creations, and both show the composer’s taste for the grotesque.  I mean, Schumann may have been unhinged, but he never wrote character pieces about nightmarish things like spiders, night moths and the scaffold for hangings. But it’s not all so heavy; Alborada del gracioso – probably more familiar in its orchestral version – evokes Spanish dance and guitars in a way not that different from what comes up in the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti.

The Keith Johnson digital recording was made in l989 and is superb. This was prior to the implementation of the HDCD encoding technology of which Keith was a co-developer.  Most of the recordings in the Reference Recordings catalog are HDCD encoded, a compatible system which enhances the 44.1K CD system when played back thru a HDCD decoder, but is said to enhance the sound even without a decoder (which almost no components include any longer).  I had the original non-HDCD release and naturally did a careful A/B comparison. I think I’ll stay with the original release.  I find it has more snap, clarity, and a wider dynamic range, though by a very small measure. A type of compression is built into the HDCD encoding and I believe I hear it.

 - John Sunier

 
11/15:  The following comments on this release have been received from Keith Johnson. I learned that the differences I heard were because the original CD was mastered from the Sony 701 processor digital tapes made at the same time as the analog tapes.  The analog tapes were used for the original vinyl release as well as for this new HDCD issue:
 
The analog tape recording is inherently softer-sounding and does have some peak compression as do all magnetic recordings. It will have a more full and rounded character than the direct to digital recording. The modified Sony converter used for the original release was very good for its day but was flawed by adding more snap than the actual microphone feed. Discontinuities and non-harmonic distortions were technology problems then and sometimes they augmented perception – though usually for not very long.

Many years have taken some life and sparkle from the analogue masters. Other virtues remain and peak compression is only that from the tape, not from the HDCD encoding or conversion.

- Keith




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