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
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.