Sonoma Records, the record label created by the Super Audio Center, has released its first album. Entitled Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani, the new Surround Sound Super Audio CD features organist Anthony Newman, the Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble and Timpanist Duncan Patton performing 12 Classical Music compositions by Strauss, Handel, Gabrieli, Bach, Rachmaninov, Monteverdi and Mussorgsky. The album was the first one recorded with the new 24 Track Sonoma DSD Workstation and is intended to show off the capabilities and sonics of both the new Sonoma product (which is available for rent and sale through the Super Audio Center) as well as the Super Audio CD format itself.
24 Page Booklet Included
Included with the first release on Sonoma Records is a 24 page booklet. It includes information about the Super Audio CD format, background on Sonoma Records from Sony SACD Project Director David Kawakami, information on the selection of the music and performers on the disc by Producer Steven Epstein, biographies of Graham Aston and Anthony Newman, Notes on the Arrangements on the album, background on the Mander Pipe Organ played on the album, a listing of the musicians on each selection, technical details about the recording, diagrams on how the musicians were recorded in Surround Sound and a list of instruments featured on the album. It’s a pretty comprehensive picture of the production and the final product.
The Story Behind Sonoma Records
Sony’s SACD Project Director for the U.S. describes the story behind Sonoma Records and this release as follows:
“This particular album is the first by Sonoma Records, a label specifically established to encourage the exploration of what SA-CD can ultimately deliver.
The concept was simple – take the best recording technology we have available and offer it to the best practitioners we know and see what would happen. So we took the latest iteration of the Sonoma Workstation, which we believe is the most transparent DSD recording system currently available, and gave it to one of the best classical producers in the world – Steven Epstein.
Here’s the challenge we threw Steve. Come up with a project that (1) fully exploits the technology of SA-CD, (2) offers great music and (3) features great musicians. Within minutes of putting down the phone, Steve was calling me back. It was like a dam broke. Idea after idea came pouring out. He knew exactly the musicians he wanted, the repertoire and the recording venue. I gave him the green light immediately. After all, who am I to argue with a 12-time Grammy winner?”
Putting Together This Release
The story of the album continues with Producer Steven Epstein who has produced a number of Super Audio CDs on the Sony Classical label, including some direct to DSD SACD releases. Epstein describes the project by noting:
“SACD’s uncanny ability to accurately reproduce an acoustic space – especially in multichannel surround – make it ideally suited to classical recording.
For the repertoire, I chose works by Bach, Gabrieli, Richard Strauss, Mussorgsky and other composers whose music I thought would take full advantage of SACD’s Direct Stream Digital technology.
Our primary emphasis would not be placed on the question of how many records we could sell, but rather, what we could do to realize the highest ideals in documenting great musicians with the best technology that the current state of the art permits. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, I think we’ve captured something special.”
Organ – Anthony Newman
Trumpets – Graham Ashton, Mark Gould, Carl Albach, Lee Soper
Horn – William de Vos
Trombones – Jim Pugh, Richard Clark, Jeff Nelson, Matt Ingman
Tuba – Marcus Rojas
Timpani – Duncan Patton
1. Strauss: Solemn Entry Of The Knights Of The Order Of St. John
2. Handel: Overture From Music For The Royal Fireworks
3. Gabrieli: Canzon Noni Toni a 12
4. Gabrieli: Canzon XV
5. Gabrieli: Canzon XVI
6. Bach: Kantate BWV 29 (Nr.1 Sinfonia)
7. Bach: Kantate am Michaeilfest BWV 19 (Nr.1 Coro)
8. Rachmaninov: The Theotokos, Ever-Vigilant In Prayer
9. Bach: Kantate BWV 34 am Pfingstfest (Nr.1 Coro)
10. Bach: Kantate BWV 214 (Nr.1 Coro)
11. Monteverdi: Toccata From ‘Orfeo’
12. Mussorgsky: The Great Gate Of Kiev From Pictures At An Exhibition
Producer – Steven Epstein
Recording Engineer – Richard King
DSD Engineers – Gus Skinas and Hiro Komuro, Super Audio Center
DSD Editing Engineer – Dawn Frank, Super Audio Center
Stereo & 5.1 Surround Sound Mix & Mastering – Steven Epstein & Richard King
Hybrid SACD Replication – VIVA SACD, Hong Kong
The Finished Product
After all of the build up for this initial release on the Sonoma-24 DSD Workstation and Sonoma Records, I was very interested in listening to the finished product. The bottom line is that the folks at Sonoma Records delivered big time with this recording. At regular playback levels, the album provides a very natural sound field with very realistic portrayal of the instruments in the ensemble.
Moving to 5.1 Surround Sound playback, the SACD offers an interesting take on the selections. They are recorded in what producer Epstein refers to as a “horseshoe” layout with the Organ across the front channels and the brass, trumpets, trombones and timpani occupying the sides and 2 microphones in the church chapel adding ambient pickup. Playing the Surround Sound tracks at a slightly higher volume transformed the album into a Surround Sound demo disc with an impressive sense of space and musical interplay. Epstein and King are often cited as experts in SACD and DSD recording. This disc demonstrates why that is indeed the case.
Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani is now available from the Acoustic Sounds and Elusive Disc web sites. Acoustic Sounds is serving as the distributor for the SACD and I think we will see it at other audiophile outlets as well in the weeks ahead.