ProArte Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances and “calibrating for the reviewer”
It’s always interesting to get other perspectives on audio and the recordings we listen to for our pleasure. I ordered the ProArte recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (Mata/Dallas) recently as result of a recommendation on the “REG on Audio” Yahoo Group. TAS reviewer Robert Greene (REG) considers this to be a sonically better recording than the more generally acknowledged “audiophile” recordings of this work. What follows is the results of listening to this CD on my system including Magnepan MG 3.7 speakers.
ProArte is a bit of a mystery label, as far as I can tell. Some classical and a lot of oddball and novelty type CD’s, much of them look like “licensed” material. I am really not sure if the label instigated and recorded this on their own using their own personnel. As I recall, they were an “off price” label back in the day, but that’s about all I remember about ProArte. As far as technical info for the recording under review, the mystery continues.
ProArte bills this as an “Audio+ Direct to Digital” recording and infer it’s something of an audiophile release. They even provide some recording info, but it’s all pretty vague. For example, they list K&K, Shure and AKG mics, but give no model numbers. K&K appears to be a company that specializes in pickup mic’s designed for acoustic instruments, so that doesn’t help much and Shure
and AKG made everything from exotic to prosaic instruments, so who knows? All we can do is listen…
This is a recording that sounds as if it were recorded with a rear-hall sound in mind. At first, it may seem dull and the sound field a bit vague, but really it’s a pretty credible example of the sound balance one would hear at that distance from the orchestra in a typical hall. There does seem to be a bit of opaqueness as though the mics were not absolutely first-rate, but overall, one would have to consider this a successful recording with much beauty to be heard from its calm balance.
One can contrast this to the Johanos/Dallas/Turnabout recording of this piece. This has a definite front of the hall perspective and exhibits a very spatially distinct, vivid and detailed sound. Unfortunately, this also results in a recording somewhat lacking in hall ambience, which robs the sound of some of its potential beauty.
The Reference Recordings Oue/Minnesota recording may be the most sonically successful, to me. It also has a somewhat close-up sound, but sounds as if some discreet accent mics were blended in to add some hall ambience and back off things a bit. This results in a front hall, but still ambient, sound.
Recordings being compromises in first principle, I would say these recordings all present viable perspectives on an orchestra in a
concert hall. Which one you will like best will depend on what kind of concert hall you prefer and where you prefer to sit in the hall. Personally, I am glad to have these quite different sonic perspectives available and find much to enjoy in all three, but would have to say the Reference Recordings has the “best” sound based on my tastes.
That said, the reviewers sonic preferences should be an important factor in your assessing the reviews of recordings and equipment you may read or hear. I will refer to this as “calibrating for the reviewer”. As you read any reviewers work, they will tend to betray their inevitable biases and likes in their reviews. In my mind, the better reviewers will give you enough straight reportage of the sound to allow their descriptions to be relevent to you once you figure in the calibration factor between you and the reviewer.