Classic Recordings: Sonatas for Violin & Piano: Brahms, Debussy, Bartók

I have a confession to make; near the end of nearly every RMAF, some piece of music played on some system in some room chokes me up to the point of having to hold back tears. I would suggest my reaction has to do with everything including the music and its sound. Three year's ago, it was the "Violin Sonata in G Minor" composed by Claude Debussy as performed by David Abel, violin, and Julie Steinberg, piano, from a DSD transfer in the Wilson/VTL room (see details).

I'm not a classical music aficionado but thankfully you don't have to be to listen. My experience in the Wilson/VTL room has stayed in my mind (and heart) ever since and I always meant to get Sonatas for Violin & Piano: Brahms, Debussy, Bartók, produced by David Wilson (of Wilson Audio), originally released on LP in 1987 on his Wilson Audiophile Recordings label.

Here's Dave Wilson:

The musical instruments used in this recording are of superb quality, complementing the talents of the artists, and enhancing the color and expressiveness of the literature. The piano is a 9 foot Hamburg Steinway model D concert grand, selected for its almost magical harmonic warmth and evenness of tone. The Hamburg Steinway is Ms. Steinberg’s chosen instrument. The violin is a Guarnerius, built in Cremona, Italy in 1719. The Guarnerius sings with speed, focus, and sweetness.

A spaced-pair of Schoeps microphones, driving a vacuum tube line-level amplifier, are used to capture a naturally open, and dynamically accurate sonic presentation.

And here's how this lovely recording made its way to DSD (from Native DSD Music):
Puget Sound Studios received the tapes from Wilson Audiophile Recordings, LLC, in a wooden crate. Master Tapes were then catalogued in an excel spreadsheet. Each Master Tape was then inspected, cleaned with an anti-fungal solution, and then a lubricant was applied to prepare the Master Tapes for the transfer process. Approximately 8 of the first 13 reels had to be baked to reformulate the binding. This was done in an incubator at 135 degrees for 24 hours and then they were left to cool back down to room temperature for the next 24 hours. All splices were inspected and repaired, if necessary.
We're also told that "...the analog recording was made at 30 inches per second on Wilson Audio’s exclusive Ultramaster Recorder, built by John Curl." How's that for provenance!

Why transpose analog tape to DSD? Because the results sound rich, natural, intimate, warm, and lifelike. In a word, lovely. While I'm confessing, I have to confess my love of Debussy. Our relationship was formed back in my first year of college in a music appreciation course where our instructor also happened to love Debussy. His language and manner changed whenever he spoke of Debussy and this affection left a lasting impression (pardon the pun).

As I sat in the Wilson/VTL room at RMAF 2013 breathing in this heart-wrenchingly lovely music, I connected back to the me that was in my first year of college and all of the space, time, loss and learning in between.

Sonatas for Violin & Piano: Brahms, Debussy, Bartók is available from a number of online sources. I got mine from Acoustic Sounds.

I'm thinking of making Classic Recordings a regular column on AudioStream where we focus on recordings that offer a combination of exceptional music and exceptional sound quality. Let me know if you like this idea. Thanks!

jimwc's picture

I've been reading your blog since the beginning, but only just now created an account in order to vote for this new column idea. I've enjoyed your reviews, perspective on hifi, and all of the new music on Fridays. Even if not all of your music recommendations are to my taste, I have loved a few and, in a broader sense it is great to explore art which others find indispensable. The same is most certainly true of older recordings that I may have missed, and have gained the perspective of time.

Keep up the great work!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I like this idea the more I think about it. Someone has suggested that I also have guests write articles, which I also like. There are lots of people in our industry and hobby that have lots to offer along these lines.


BradleyP's picture

What a fine performance and recording! The studio is on the dry side, producing a sound that is more precise than voluptuous, which was an engineering choice, I'm sure. Thank you for the recommendation.

Since many readers might want to sample the goods before laying out money for a DSD or hi-res download, it would be nice if you also indicated where it could be streamed. (I'm listening on Spotify right now.) Yes, it's a touchy subject, but I'm willing to bet that 95% of readers will look for it on TIDAL or Spotify first to inform a decision to buy or not elsewhere. Besides, with David Wilson's own label, I can only assume it's streamable because he wants it to be, not just because a major music conglomerate wants it to be.

2_channel_ears's picture

the idea of Classic Recordings and will check this one out!

GarkM's picture

for the Classic Recordings idea and guest articles.

JayGee's picture

As I've aged I've found my musical tastes have widened (matured?) to the point where my internal monologue has recently been telling me you should listen to some classical music. Problem is from the outside it looks to be quite an arcane/technical genre so I don't know where to start. That's a shame because as you frequently mention our hobby is all about enjoying the music and if this recommendation is anything to go by there's a lot out there to be enjoyed. So yes please start this column and I for one will definitely read it, if you could angle it toward those who are eager apprentices in the field that would be appreciated.

Thank-you for your wonderful site, which as you extend with ideas like this gets better and better.

DH's picture

And it is great. Great music, great sound.
BTW, the DSD is considerably cheaper at Native DSD than at Acoustic Sounds.
Acoustic Sounds does have it in 24/176, though.

DavidZ's picture

>>>>>Acoustic Sounds does have it in 24/176, though.

You may wish to check out Korg's free software that lets you change files from one format to another, including all PCM word lengths/sampling rates and DSD. For example, I don't "do" DSD, but can buy from NativeDSD if something is only there (or less expensive). OTOH, I haven't experimented to see how/if the Korg re-sampling affects sound quality. I plan to do experimenting with the Abel/Steinberg release. I have the WA release of their Beethoven/Enescu disc from the same era, and it is one of my favorites. -- David

mtymous1's picture
...if it's just going to end up as an open door for trolls and more useless banter around "bits are bits" (and subsequent retorts). If that insufferable nonsense can be kept at bay, then yes, "Classic Recordings" would be good. [Off topic comments deleted, Ed.]
Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I did not mean just classical recordings.

I've noticed a decline in argumentative, off-topic posts of late and I intend to keep that trend going.

CarterB's picture

Love hearing about new albums--especially high res.

Simon Chick's picture

.. and I think tilted towards classical is a good idea because of the understandable perception of the music being arcane. So nicely explained recommendations become new entry points.

First post I think although I registered ages ago and read the site reverently.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Oops! You'll see in today's post that I've decided to change the name of this column to Lovely Recordings. I explain why in today's post but I wanted to open this up to any music.

Thanks for reading!