K A R L A M A D E U S H A R T M A N N
Aspen Festival Orchestra
Aspen Music Festival
This is how you know you're listening to an orchestral recording made by engineers who understand and care about music: At your usual volume setting the music sounds far too quiet and muffled. You decide to increase the volume of the files before burning them on CD but discover that the peak volume is already at nearly 100%. And your heart skips a beat because you realize that what you have is an orchestral recording with completely uncompressed dynamic range, and without any post-production boost of high frequencies. So you just crank up the volume on your amplifier, and every time there is an orchestral sforzando or a forte whack on the bass drum, the music "opens up" with thrilling vitality, and there is not the the slightest fatigue experienced by your ears throughout the entire piece.
Unless, of course, your amplifier is inside your laptop or computer speakers, and delivers just enough juice to power your grandpa's hearing aid or your grandma's vibrator. Or it is a stand alone audio-video-microwave-toaster-washer-dryer-and-everything-else-you-can-think-of-plastic-piece-of-shit, with more blinking lights on its front face than you'd see in Tokyo's Shibuya District on a Friday night, and with the manufacturer's promise to deliver hundreds of watts into countless speakers, doorbells, alarm clocks, pacemakers, and anything else you can plug into it - but only so long as this power is measured on a tiny interval of midrange frequencies, and lasts no longer than a fraction of a second. In that case the orchestral peaks will be clipped and what you'll hear will be a lifeless, muffled, faintly congested, and two-dimensional Muzak. You'll hate it, naturally, and once again praise the Lord for all those commercial recordings whose dynamic range is so compressed that you can hear ppp passages on your iPod earbuds while squeezing a couple of hundred rounds through your .45 Colt Automatic at a shooting range, and whose high frequency content is boosted so much that your cheap speakers (or iPod earbuds) will buzz and sizzle like the power transmission lines that run across the Nevada Basin desert.
Now you can understand why I was so pleased with the sound quality of this live and unedited recording of Hartmann's 6th Symphony. (Corigliano's Piano Concerto on this blog is another live orchestral recording whose engineering I find that gratifying.) Add to this the fact that Aspen's Benedict Tent is essentially an open space venue, and you will understand why I would gratefully carry the sound engineer's photo in my wallet (if I carried a wallet, that is).
As for the performance, the orchestral playing is good, and it communicates the excitement of a live concert to make a far stronger case for Hartmann's "conservative modernism" than what I remember from slippery and two-dimensional sounding commercial recording by Ingo Metzmacher and the Bamberg SO. (Apropos, the incompetent cocksuckers at EMI who produced this commercial set of Hartmann's symphonies did not even bother to invest minimal care into splicing together different takes without audible hiccups. Just check the Adagio of the 7th symphony at around 9:26.5 for one example of how the CD-buying public repeatedly gets fucked by the perpetually self-pitying recording industry). The Aspen orchestra, by the way, is essentially a "master class" orchestra, in which the front desks are occupied by experienced (often world-class) musicians, and the rest of the players are very talented young musicians (conservatory students or recent graduates). Many of these youngsters will go on to become players in top orchestras, and some may become world-class soloists - as it happened in the past with Joshua Bell, Lyn Harrell, Sara Cheng, and other famous musicians who are alumni of the Aspen Music Festival and School.