York Philharmonic and High Resolution
a classical music-loving
audiophile, I haven't found much to get me excited about downloads.
Most of the downloadable catalog is available on CD, and many of
those albums have been around for years. Even some of the
fabulous-sounding downloads from 2L are also available on disc. Many
of the world's great orchestras have recently started releasing
recordings on their own labels, and many of these releases have been
in the SACD format, sounding anywhere from very good to excellent.
So although I don't have anything against downloading music, I just
didn't have a compelling reason to do it. But that might be starting
The New York Philharmonic
isn't the only orchestra to eschew physical media, but it has an
ambitious download release schedule. To commemorate music director
Alan Gilbert's inaugural season with the orchestra, an entire
season's worth of music (30 concerts) is being released on iTunes.
You can see the
complete list here.
More importantly to audiophiles, HDtracks.com has made four of them
available in high
resolution. And by
resolution, I don't mean the CD
standard of 16-bit/44.1kHz, but true 24/96. We can only hope that
eventually they'll all be made available in this format, as lossy
compression just doesn't cut it for classical music. The four
recordings cover disparate time periods and styles, with works by
Haydn, Schubert, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Mahler, Copeland, and Berg.
There are symphonies, a concerto, and even a vocal piece. That's a
lot of variety for just four concerts. And I'm confident that most
listeners will find something worth trying.
musicianship on these recordings is nothing less than excellent, as
you might expect from one of the world's premier orchestras. In
particular, I found the recording of the Prokofiev with Yefim
Bronfman to be both involving and flawlessly executed. One of the
distinct advantages of a live recording is the level of energy from
the musicians. Another is the total lack of editing. A live
recording lets the music breathe and flow in the way that it's meant
to be heard. If the purpose of your audio system is to mimic a live
event, then a live recording seems like the best place to start.
As for the sound quality
of high-resolution downloads, the higher sample rate is evident in
the increased harmonic texture of instruments and grain-free treble.
But 24/96 doesn't necessarily mean that the recordings are perfect.
I found the Prokofiev recording slightly bright, for example, as the
piano lacked weight and the brass had a little too much sizzle. The
concert Passion &
Haydn, Adams, Schubert, and Berg had
a more neutral tonal balance. All of the recordings also have a very
front-of-the-hall perspective, which is a drawback for many live
recordings, as the engineers are extremely limited in their choices
for microphone placement. On the other hand, I have a number of live
orchestral recordings that do a much better job of capturing the
sound of the hall and creating a credible three-dimensional
soundstage. On the whole, though, the recordings are still very good
and are worth their modest price.
classical music downloads don't fully represent the present, they
almost certainly represent the future. It's my hope that other
orchestras will follow the New York Philharmonic's lead and offer
their new releases not only as lossy compressed files but also in
high resolution. We can influence the future in two ways: by writing
to the orchestras with our wishes and by voting with our wallets and
supporting high-resolution downloads when they're available.
. . . S. Andrea Sundaram
Domain" Archived Articles
- May 2010 -
The Digital Music Revolution: What
Download Sites Have to Offer -- Part 14-
February 2010 - World of Apps
December 2009 - The Digital Music
Revolution: What Download Sites Have to Offer -- Part 13
November 2009 - Sonic Studio
July 2009 - Synergistic Research
Tesla Tricon USB Cable
May 2009 - High Resolution
Technologies MusicStreamer Digital-to-Analog Converter
April 2009 - Better than CD and
February 2009 - Wadia
170iTransport Digital iPod Dock
January 2009 - Introducing
"The Digital Domain"
Note: Previous "The Digital Music
Revolution" installments are available in the
is where the series originated.