BACH: Goldberg Variations – Ito Ema, p. – MA Recordings DVD-ROM BACH: Cello Suites Nos. 1, 2 & 3 – Martin Zeller, c. – MA Recordings DVD-ROM

by | Dec 9, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

J.S. BACH: Goldberg Variations – Ito Ema, Steinway concert grand (1903) – MA Recordings hi-res WAV file DVD-ROM (176.4K/24bit & 88.2K/24bit WAV files) with liner notes, cover & artist image – M024A-HR *****:
J.S. BACH: Suites No. 1 in G; 2 in d & 3 in C for unaccompanied cello – Vol. 1 – Martin Zeller, cello – MA Recordings hi-res WAV file DVD-ROM (88.2K/24bit) with liner notes, cover & artist image – M073A-HR *****:
With the increased interest in digital downloads of hi-res two-channel audio files, there are still many of us who prefer having a physical product in hand that can’t suddenly disappear on us.  MA Recordings has long had the very highest standards in one-point stereo recording at high sampling rates and with perfectionist gear. They have experimented with some releases at 176.4K, and even an SACD.  Now they are offering  several of their albums as DVD-ROMs containing hi-res WAV files.  These are the two classical titles in their first batch.
At first neither would play on either my iMac or my Oppo BDP-95 deck, but later they both played fine; I don’t have an explanation. The DVD boxes lack the artwork of the CD versions, but the art is available as graphic files on the DVD.  The Goldberg Variations disc is divided into Parts A & B, corresponding to Sides A & B on a simultaneous vinyl release. The Goldberg theme and the first 15 variations as on Part A, with the concluding 15 variations and the final statement of the theme on Part B. The user has a choice on the screen of selecting the 176.K.24 files or the 88.2K/24 files.   Perhaps if you’re 25 years old and have the very highest-end equipment, you can discern a sonic improvement in the 176.4K files.  I find the two options sound identical, and the 176K takes far too much HD storage space. (I also think either 88.2 or 96K and 24-bit is the perfect 2-channel hi-res format, on disc or download.)
The piano sound on the Goldbergs is especially rich and realistic.  This is a fairly straightforward interpretation – nothing unusual a la Glenn Gould. I’m not partial to doing long comparisons of competing versions, but Ema is certainly a contender. So also is cellist Martin Zeller’s approach to the famous Bach cello suites a rather straightforward one.None of the sometimes harsh attacks of bow to string as in Pablo Casal’s 1930s

recordings (beautifully restored on both the Pristine and Grammophono labels), but  providing most enjoyable listening. Zeller plays a 1673 cello made by Jacobus Stainer and the wide range of timbres and detail in the sound is perfectly captured by Todd Garfinkle’s custom-made mikes on the original ½-inch  analog master tapes. Hearing every bit of the sonic palette of the instrument is vital in appreciating the perfection of these amazing works. I’m looking forward to the second volume from MA, to conclude the six cello suites.
—John Sunier

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