Listening to the Little Tomato (Tomatito) and his wonderful orchestral Sonanta Suite (with Josep Pons) [DG], I am completely struck by the nuance of his style. Whereas most CD players make a bit of a hash of such dramatic and self-contained dynamics, the Vivaldi reveals the nature of the man and his expression within the beautiful physical relationship to his instrument. Against an orchestral and vocal backdrop, it is a fine balancing act but it never becomes swamped with the transients as his nails energise the strings or as the string itself smacks against the fret board. The Vivaldi’s version of events is in many ways quieter and more considered but bristling with life and energy and the sense of focus is tremendous. There’s colourful tone in his playing style. Warmth too and the Vivaldi’s control over the guitar’s undoubted percussive abilities leaves the recording open to more considered contemplation. There is no feeling of the system as moving out of its depth or struggling to cope and yet the speed and wonderful musical articulation gives the music new potential and flavour with simply tremendous bandwidth. For me, this is exactly what high-end equipment should do. It really must take you to the heart of the music; otherwise, what good is it?
Billy Cobham’s interesting Drum ‘n Voice Expedition [Sony] isn’t the greatest recording but what the Vivaldi 2.0 draws off the disc is a feeling of musical mastery and rhythmic power that is quite brilliant. Cobham is the beat. He sits squarely on top of every song like the great player he is. He is the backbone that won’t break and he lays down persuasive patterns that are never flash or over the top. He is always there, like a rock, and the flavour of the whole series of discs is dominated by not only his metronomic understanding of time and space itself, but through his feel for each piece and his understanding that less is more. It’s a marvellous experience to just let him carry you through the albums and to hear the way that the accompanying musicians involve themselves within his rhythmic framework and constructions. I first discovered this album when I was using the original Vivaldi but I could scarcely believe how much more ‘real’ and expressive the Vivaldi 2.0 showed it to be. It offers greater instrumental separation, more dynamic independence, and a much more attractive picture of the music in the sense that the soundstage itself seems to have grown both in scale and three dimensional space plus tauter bass and a more extended and comfortable high frequency performance. The list goes on.
Of course, the fact that the transport can deal so well with SACD is a big plus too. I am late to the SACD party but those still invested in spinning discs are in for a real treat. The eastern markets, where dCS is so dominant are still very much interested in these discs, and comparing some of the classical SACD titles I have from the Esoteric label (sadly now out of production) have really shocked me. Take the Brahms violin concerto with the late and very great David Oistrakh and listen to the adagio. Forget the technical improvements and just listen to the way that Oistrakh plays the piece. His complete mastery of his violin in both space and tone through just about the most exquisite phrasing I have heard from a musician reach into you. They talk to you of yearning and beauty. I say talk because that’s what I hear from his violin. His sense of phrasing is, to me, almost vocal. There is no need for excessive, quivering vibrato or over embellishment. The Vivaldi 2.0 takes you to the heart of what he is saying and his gift for ‘shaping’ a note is something I hear so rarely from violin players. There is a certain emotional nakedness about Oistrakh here, almost as if he is letting you into secrets he has discovered within the piece. It is as moving as it is memorable and is the finest I have ever heard this incredible piece of music played. I thought it sounded great through the original Vivaldi but it has been lifted to another level completely now.