I devoted almost a whole Pro Audio section to the ISOMIKE technology developed on very sound acoustical principles by cable guru Ray Kimber in our issue of exactly two years ago. Since that time, the technology and its practice have been refined, and what were recording exercises are now the basis of a record label , though Ray refuses to emblazon the label, letting each recording speak for itself, as indicated in the covers and packaging shown to the right, which is bright and cheery, and very well designed, I suppose, like Kimber Kables themselves.
The artists featured in these two releases, consisting of 3 SACD multichannel/CD hybrid discs, comprise the Fry Street String Quartet, who came to these recording sessions with a string of awards and prizes in their young history. Winners of the Milennium Grand Prize at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, the First Prize at the Yellow Springs Competition, and also receiving an award at the Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Fry Streeters have been a busy bunch. They’re currently in residence as the Faculty Quartet at Utah State’s School of the Arts.
Hearing them play in the Austad Auditorium at Weber State University in full discrete surround takes my ears back to various halls at Queen’s University, where I recorded concerts by the Vaghy String Quartet, in residence at my alma mater when I was running the radio station in the early 70s. And that includes the slap echo (prevalent in smaller college auditoriums used for lectures and music), which always presents an acoustic engineering challenge. Some things never change.
The quartet are Rebecca McFaul and Jessica Guideri, violin, Russell Fallstad, viola, and Anne Francis, cello, onstage, shown with the mighty OMNIMIKE looming in front of them (I refer you to Vol. 22 #1 for a technical look at this literally baffling system of controlling interaural channel interference) from two angles. Buried in that acoustic matrix are the 4 microphones that pick up the front and rear signals in these latter-day quadraphonic recordings.
I would descibe the Fry’s approach to Haydn, especially, as more affectionate than pyrotechnic, as they linger on his lovely melodies in an ultimately elucidating and satisfying fashion. It’s a musicianship that I think will blossom into something more profound with time, but the op. 77 quartet in particular shines in this light, with the earlier op. 9 showing a cheery effervescence in its sunny reading.
After listening to the Beethoven op. 132 on the other 2-disc set, I pulled out my vintage (and beloved) Guarneri RCA disc for comparison, and realized what time can bring to the Fry as they maintain their superb level of playing and varnish it with that kind of insight. Of course, the late Beethoven quartets have so many depths (and pitfalls) that they are more than a challenge for any young players, no matter how virtuosic and expressive they may be. And, in my opinion, the the Fry faces up to this challenge well, with a reading that sees the music clearly, if not quite finding the profound suffering that created it in Beethoven’s head.The Stravinsky pieces are great fun, while the newer quartets by Ned Rorem and Mark Scearce are very much worth playing, hearing, and recording. The former has its movements each named after a great Picasso painting, and begs for a picture show with it on the disc (what ever happened to DVD-Audio?), and is a piece I’ll come back to again and again, while the short Scearce First Quartet “Y2K” also begs for further listening, which it will get, with the slap echo slightly turned down (another of the virtues of discrete surround!). These 3 discs are wonderful excursions into (truly into, in surround) the music they present, and auspicious entries into the record business from Kimber in superb sound.
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