Yes, Alpha-Audio is going to review classical music! After no-go’s such as vinyl, tube amps and horn speakers penetrated Alpha-Audio’s test benches earlier this year, it’s now classical music. As is often the case, a loyal Alpha reader pointed out to us that we don’t pay attention to classical music in test tracks, while this is a genre par excellence where attention is paid to recording and acoustics. We listen to a piece by Prokofiev.
“Chamber music is very similar in response to an audio system as any piece with a singer or the well known piece ‘Little Fuge in G’ that you often use. A large symphony orchestra is challenging in terms of dynamics and the ability to follow different melody lines, without the orchestral sound falling apart as often happens in very analytical high end systems. In many cases a system shuts down completely.”
With classical music it is often a problem for ‘laymen’ that they don’t know exactly what to listen to, what to pay attention to and how to choose from the many performances. And then there are the different currents, from baroque to classical, romantic to avant-garde. Symphonic, chamber music.
Martijn ten Napel takes you with him on albums that score exceptionally well both musically and sound-wise. We start with our own Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Chailly; an album with works by Prokofiev and the lesser known composers Varèse and Mosolov.
This is an album I invariably take with me to a listening session. It is like a sharpener for HiFi equipment. The album opens with Zavod, better known as “Iron Foundry”. The hammering on steel is literally performed. The screaming violins and brass players that go completely nuts and make it – well – like a sound orgy in which many an amplifier and speaker become entangled.
Nice to know: Metallica plays this piece with orchestra in their S&M2 concert. I think that gives you an idea of where to place this piece. The recording is top quality, with lots of dynamics and you get the atmosphere and acoustics of the Dutch Concertgebouw.
The sound of an orchestra and a venue will never fit into your living room and your speakers, so recording engineers and mixers must compromise on what they emphasize. That produces varying results, but this recording is a fine example of recording skills.
This is followed by the four parts of Prokofiev’s Third Symphony. A piece that is played very little, it is quite dark music and does not attract crowds of people to a concert hall like a Bruckner or Mahler symphony does. Prokofiev had finished the opera “The Angel of Fire” after a long struggle. The piece was only never performed during his life. Prokofiev saw that his opera was not going to be performed and in order to get his music performed anyway, he based the third symphony on the music of the fire angel. The fire angel is a dark love story in which demons play an important role.
If you know that, the music suddenly makes a lot of sense. It’s an opera, so the music is expressive of itself. The melody lines that tumble over each other in the first part give you a great feeling of restlessness. On a hi-fi system that is very analytical you can take it all apart fantastically, but you lose coherence. On a system that can’t bast it becomes a mess.
If it’s all right then at the extreme dynamics of the piece your hair will stand up straight. Fortunately, the second part allows you to catch your breath after the violence of the first part, but the threat remains. The dark clouds are never gone, however sweet the melody is.