Album Title: Die Röhre – The Tube: Works by Corelli, Biber, Vivaldi, Boccherini and Sammartini  
Performers: Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
Label: Speakers Corner | Tacet L74
Playing time: 57’32"
Recorded: January 2008

Bohemian composer Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644 – 1704) was the forerunner of the violin virtuoso who preceded Corelli, Tartini and Vivaldi. His innovative techniques included multiple stops, fancy passage work venturing into the sixth and seventh positions, scordatura (retuning of strings to facilitate fingering otherwise humanly impossible as in some of his Mystery Sonatas) and bow tapping on the instrument's side. The eight Solo Violin Sonatas with Continuo of 1681 were constructed in freestyle more like variations or collections of dances

Instead of harpsichord or organ for figured bass, Biber more often preferred the lute or theorbo. One of his most imaginative works, Sonata Representativa, takes up the form of musical portraits of nightingale, cuckoo, frog, cock and hen, quail, cat and musketeers. Yet the most brilliant programmatic actions of all have to be those of the Battalia à 10 written in 1673, which leads to my favorite track of this LP album.

It was once believed that the Battalia represented such a sacrilegious musical amusement that Biber dared not publish it during his life time. In the first movement, strings players knock their bows against their instruments to invoke the marching steps of the soldiers. The second movement is a cacophony of eight different folk melodies from various parts of Europe played simultaneously by three violins, two violas, two cellos and one double bass in clashing keys and time signatures to signify conflicts among races and nations. While politically a true representation, musically it’s a real culture shock of unprecedented atonal dissonance for the time. In the “The Musketeer’s March”, the solo violin imitates the fife while the solo bass, with a piece of paper slipped between the strings and brutally struck by the bow, reminds us of the rumbling of the battle drum. In “The Battle”, the lower strings snap their strings to fire cannons. "The Lament of the Wounded" paints the sorrowful yet solemnly consoling scene after the battle.

Another piece of unconventional musical entertainment which inflicted self-censorship was La Musica Notturna della strade di Madrid by Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805). Written around 1780, the quintet begins with pizzicato strings imitating the bells of the Ave Maria, then goes on to portray guitar players and singer performing in the streets of Madrid at night and finally finishes with the grandeur of a parade of the guards. If the street music at night sounds familiar, you might recall the violin-cello duet played by Captain Aubrey & Doctor Marturin Duo in the final scene of the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Founded by Karl Münchinger in 1945, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra preserves the old-fashioned goodness of interpreting music of the Baroque and Classical era as evidenced by the harmonious euphony and spirited phrasing in the more traditional works in this album, namely the Sammartini Sinfonia in F, the Vivaldi Concerto alla Rustica and the Corelli Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.7. The two adventurous works by Biber and Boccherini are administered with good humor and a precise dosage of dramatic flair, making it hard to imagine that such flawlessly disciplined yet spontaneous performances were actually undertaken without a conductor.

Talking about good-old fashion, nothing beats the German label Tacet which specializes in 100% all-tube analog recordings starting with tube microphones captured by an open-reel tube recorder and tube mixer finished off with manual splice-and-tape analog editing. 180-gram LP mastering and pressing were performed in joint partnership with another German analog specialist, Speakers Corner. Even the purest of purists has to admit that tube and LP have never sounded so perfect. Even the subtlest of subtleties are faithfully represented. Listen to the Samartini Sinfonia and you’ll notice the second violins on the right sounding somewhat mellower than the brighter first violins on the left. That’s because the second violinists were seated with their backs facing the audience for that subtle contrast in tone color.

While I proclaim this LP a once-in-a-blue-moon overachiever par excellence, non-vinylistas shouldn’t feel left out. The 2-channel hybrid SACD version is available as the Tacet S74 album with a generous bonus of 30 minutes more music from two Baroque masters, the Scarlatti/Avison Concerto No.12 and the Händel Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.2. The inevitable digital processing of the DSD conversion didn’t rob the SACD of much the tube magic although I have to admit that something in the vinyl remains incomparable – the organically seamless imaging, the grainless high resolution, the uncluttered instrumental localization and the unrestrained airiness.