Boxing Clever…

The tonal neutrality, spatial precision and natural perspective of the DAC’s musical presentation is underlined by the ease with which it separates and identifies instruments in recordings that often get muddled. Examples are legion but let’s use two from the Pinchas Zuckerman Complete Recordings box-set (DGG/Philips 479 5983). The familiar shape and structure of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 is immediately recognisable – it’s inner complexities less so. The clarity that the DAC brings to proceedings, the stability and body it brings to individual instruments not only parses the closely chorused lines of flute and violin, giving each its own space and purpose, it establishes Zuckerman’s role as musical director. The musical development evolves around the violin without being dominated by it, the solo instrument bringing each evolution ‘home’ at the appointed time. But perhaps even more impressive is the way that the DAC brings a multi-dimensional solidity and layers to the tonal brilliance of the harpsichord continuo. You hear it in the extended cadenza at the end of the first movement, where the quicksilver playing and development are projected from a complex, multi-facetted instrument with shape and volume. But you hear it in the independence and consistency of the continuo playing throughout, where it anchors the music’s order and structure, so much more than just a muted, irritating rattle behind the other instruments.

Systems playing the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante K.364 often struggle to separate the contributions of the twin solo instruments. In this instance, Zuckerman takes the viola opposed to Itzhak Perlman’s violin. The effortlessly separates the two, both laterally in space and texturally, identifying and defining each by its nature, leaving the listener in no doubt as to which is playing what and when, underlining the tonal and harmonic distinctions between the two that make the viola so much more than just a big violin. But it also brings out the difference in technique demanded by the response of the two instruments, a case of being ‘pace sensitive’. Here, the agility and attack of the fiddle immediately distinguishes it from the slower, more measured bowing of the viola part. You could pick either one by that alone, which says an awful lot about the accuracy of the time and phase relationships within this DAC, the musical relationships it recovers from within the recording and performance. There are certainly other DACs that do this – but I’ve never encountered it in a DAC at this price.

The sure-footed temporal security and elastic rhythmic articulation is never more obvious that when it comes to vocal phrasing. Ella’s sublime performance of ‘Night And Day’ (from Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Song Book, Verve/Polygram 537 257-2) is the perfect example. The doesn’t so much reveal as simply enjoy her playful manipulation of the metronomic beat in the opening bars, tracing not just her stretching or shaping of the notes and syllables, but the subtle shifts in level and emphasis that she uses to build on the tension and into the opening chorus. The DAC’s ability to discriminate fine dynamic shadings as well as to react to sudden dynamic swings, brings a delicious sense of shape to the vocal, startling punch, solidity and impact to brass tuttis. And for those who dispute the fact that there’s depth on mono recordings, the makes it clear in a way that few DACs I’ve heard can. The stacking of instrumental layers, spaced between Ella’s vocal and the deep-set toms that open the song add presence, body and dimensionality to the performance. This might not be THREE-dimensionality, but it’s the same sense of physical and musical substance you get from great mono records.