There are some things you can count on at hifi shows. Good sound, not-so-good sound, and performances. While the first two are self-explanatory, the last one may need some explaining. Some systems manage to cut through the sound barrier, even in a crowded room at RMAF, and deliver the performance of the piece being played where all things hifi recede into the distance as if a great musical fog just rolled in and obscured the stuff.
This was the case in the Audio Alternative room which featured gear from VTL (S-400 Series II amplifier $33,500, TP-6.5 Signature Phonostage w/MC step-up $12,000), Vandersteen (Model Seven MKII loudspeakers $62,000, Sub Nine subwoofers $18,900, Model Seven system 9 Granite Upgrade $10,000), AMG, and Bryston with cables from AudioQuest and audio stands from HRS. After listening to a few tracks including Cat Power’s “Stay” from Wanderer (a last minute addition to my Playlist), Bea Lam introduced us to Krystian Zimerman’s new record of Schubert’s late sonatas for piano. Bea explained how Zimerman prepared his piano for these works by altering his Steinway.
…having inserted into his Steinway a keyboard he has made himself. Yes, you did read that correctly: for if there’s one thing that Zimerman is, it’s obsessive about the detail. So this keyboard is intended to be better able to sustain a cantabile line (this is done by having the hammer strike a different part of the string, if you want to get technical); it also has a wondrous clarity in the bass and is intentionally lighter-actioned, to avoid what the pianist describes as ‘the many repeated notes in Schubert … turning into Prokofiev’.
We listened to one side of the double LP all the way through, score one for vinyl’s ability to make us listen all the way through, and it was completely captivating and emotionally moving. When it ended, I realized I was responding to this experience as I would respond to a performance. Bravo!