Luxury Karr

I am still in the process of sorting through a pile of product samples, swag, and tchotchkes which I brought back from MIDEM over a month ago (which goes to show you how busy things are at Casa Gaudette), and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a number that are well worth some comment. So this is the first in four installments of new product worth tracking down.

Conductor and composer José Serebrier forwarded a terrific article from the International Society of Bassists by Gary Karr to me a couple of weeks ago, in which the virtuoso bass player details how he recorded Serebrier’s Nueve for double bass and orchestra via “long distance.” It’s well worth a read.

Too few classical music lovers know about Karr, one of the greatest musicians and pedagogues of our time, but string players speak of him with awe at his prodigious talent — and with unanimous affection if they’ve worked or studied with him. He was professor of double bass at Hartt when I was an undergraduate there, and few musicians I have encountered are as friendly and inspiring.

While Nueve is readily available on Naxos, many of Karr’s other CDs have proven elusive in the US market. So I was delighted to learn that Japanese independent label King had just reissued four of them in new, high-tech transfers from the original analog masters on their Firebird label. These include three programs of short works accompanied by Karr’s longtime collaborator Harmon Lewis on piano and organ, and Dvořák’s Cello Concerto accompanied by the Osaka Philharmonic conducted by the venerable Takashi Asahina.

The new remasterings utilize JVC’s proprietary XRCD24 technology to effect new 24-bit transfers from the original analog tapes and the CD pressings utilize HMCD2 polycarbonate, whose “improved transparency on the data side of the disc allow[s] for more accurate reading of CD data by the CD player laser head.”

I have older Firebird CD copies of both the Dvořák and Basso Cantabile (a terrific recital of aria transcriptions mostly from bel canto and verismo operas) and an unscientific comparison shows two things: while the originals sounded good, the new transfers are far better, especially in the higher frequency range and at low dynamic levels. The sound on the Dvořák particularly benefits from the XRCD24/HMCD2 upgrade, with greater immediacy and presence. Regular readers know I’m a big fan of Asahina, and this recording was made during a period when Asahina was starting to elicit not only strong technical improvement but passionate playing from the Osaka Philharmonic; conductor and orchestra are fully in tune with Karr’s exuberant and lyrical playing, particularly the sweeping melodies in the Adagio.

The packaging is typical of deluxe Japanese audiophile product: clear outer plastic slipcase, book-cover-style binding reproducing the original cover,and notes on the music and remastering technology in Japanese and English.

All of this cutting-edge luxury does come at a premium cost: ¥3,800 (USD $46 or so) per disc. But rest assured: if you love great string playing, you’ll find yourself returning to these CDs again and again, musical luxury that turns out to be a bargain. I haven’t seen these discs show up on the Acoustic Sounds or JPC sites yet, but they can be found at HMV Japan and Tower Records Japan.

Dvořák: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 104 (transcribed for double bass by Gary Karr)
Gary Karr, double bass / Osaka Philharmonic / Takashi Asahina, conductor
Recorded live, June 20, 1983 in Osaka
Producer: Motohiko Takawa / Engineer: Hatsuro Takanami
Remastered by Kazuye Sugimoto
Firebird KICC-90873 (CD)

Basso Cantante
Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata
Rachmaninoff: Vocalise
Saint-Saëns: Le Cygne
Joplin: The Entertainer
Taki: Kojo No Tsuki
trad. Nova Scotia: When I Wake Up
trad. Catalonia: Three Carols
Gary Karr, double bass / Harmon Lewis, piano
Recorded 1980 in Tokyo
Producer: Motohiko Takawa / Engineer: Hatsuro Takanami
Remastered by Kazuye Sugimoto
Firebird KICC-90874 (CD)

Basso Cantabile: Gary Karr Plays Opera Arias
Gary Karr, double bass / Harmon Lewis, piano
Recorded 1981 in Tokyo
Producer: Minoru Fukuda / Engineer: Hatsuro Takanami
Remastered by Kazuye Sugimoto
Firebird KICC-90875 (CD)

Spirituals / Foster Songs
Gary Karr, double bass / Harmon Lewis, piano and organ
Recorded 1996 in Tokyo
Producer: Minoru Fukuda / Engineer: Hatsuro Takanami
Remastered by Kazuye Sugimoto
Firebird KICC-90876 (CD)

Performances: 10
Sound quality: 10

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