Tonality was always an Apogee strength, with the ability to project both the harmonic identity and the texture of instruments. More than anything else it was this that drew me to those original speakers. It’s another attribute that is extended in the Clarisys design. Just as the Auditorium adds credible scale and dimensionality to the Apogee’s etched and spot-lit stage, so it adds greater neutrality and tonal distinction to instruments, a truer sense of their identity. The voice, guitar and other instruments on ‘An Evening Hymn on a Ground’ (Music For a While, Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata, Erato 0190295250843) have astonishingly natural tonality, body and identity, the percussion instruments reproduced with remarkable immediacy, presence, location and texture. This small ensemble piece crosses that bridge into, if not believability then utter acceptance of the event, the instruments and the musicians existing utterly independent of the system or the recording.
Víkingur Ólafsson’s piano (Debussy-Rameau, DGG483 8283) shares the same solidity and planted substance as Richter’s. The fluidity and phrasing in the playing is exemplary, with no sense of anything impeding the pace or dynamic demands of the signal, nothing between the player, the notes and the listener – a wide open window on the original event. This combination of holistic spatial integrity and the absence of system and musical impediment add immensely to the sense of who is doing what within the musical event. They add to the believability of the reproduction just as they add to the intelligibility and reveal the quality(s) in the performance.
But as impressive as the Auditoriums are on piano, wait until you try harpsichord, an instrument that most systems leave sounding skeletal and musically anorexic, a welter of jangly leading edges tumbling forth with little control and less constraint… Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.5 has often been proposed as the first ever harpsichord/keyboard concerto, the instrument stepping forward from its strict continuo role to play a major solo part. Playing the Zuckerman/LAPO set (DGG 2707 098) the centrality of the harpsichord is never in doubt, helped enormously by the dimensionality that the Clarisys bring to the instrument, so that you hear not just its position but also its size, its volume and (just as with the piano) its sheer complexity and tonal range. In its extended solo passages you hear its bass registers and boxiness with beguiling clarity and body, a world away from Beecham’s “two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof”. Even in the full-band sections it has a presence and substance that usually escapes the instrument on most systems. It’s contribution to the second, slower Affettuoso movement is particularly effective, binding the rest of the instruments into a single, purposeful whole.
Flesh on the bones…
Walter Leigh’s Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings (with Trevor Pinnock, Nicholas Braithwaite and the LPO, Lyrita SRCS 126) is another case in point. A better recording of a much later work than the DGG, it really does place the keyboard front and centre. The transparency and immediacy of the Lyrita clearly shows the width of the instrument and its range of overlaid harmonics, as well as the quicksilver leading edge response to the sprays of plucked notes. Pinnock’s impressive playing is beautifully controlled and directed, a world away from the helter-skelter avalanche of notes that so often emanates from the much-maligned instrument. At the same time the speakers also fasten on the more dynamically two-dimensional character of the instrument, lacking the subtlety of note weight enjoyed by the piano – a character that, like the richer harmonic envelope, is closer to life (at least, life as I hear it).