If You Love For Beauty, Sasha Cooke and The Colburn Orchestra

Yarlung Records has garnered accolades for its innovative series of 45 rpm records that feature a variety of classical and jazz artists. Expectations are bound to be high for its new LP If You Love For Beauty, featuring the talented mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke together with the Colburn Orchestra conducted by Yehuda Gilad. Unfortunately, this album does not meet them.

Yarlung explains in its liner notes that while it has become known for employing a single stereo microphone or two mono microphones, it “cheated” for this recording, deploying two coincident Neumann U-47s for over 90 percent of the sound from Cooke and the orchestra, while adding two AKG- C-12s to supplement the percussion and winds. Perhaps this decision explains the sonic peculiarities that afflict this LP. For example, on the Rückert Lieder, a song cycle composed by Gustav Mahler at the turn of the nineteenth century, Cooke’s voice sounds somewhat recessed (it should also be noted that traces of her American accent are clearly discernible). This phenomenon can be heard throughout the recording. On the most dynamic piece on the album, John Adam’s song from Doctor Atomic “Am I in Your Light,” whose rendition has justly earned Cooke laurels, her voice once again sounds remote and astringent.

Then there are the tonal anomalies. Throughout, Cooke sounds somewhat acidulated in the treble region, a defect, not of her singing, but the recording itself. Something similar can be said about the sound of the woodwinds, which possess an overly nasal quality. Matters improve slightly on Handel’s marvelous aria “Ombra mai fu” from the 1738 opera Serse, but it is taken at such a lugubrious pace that it is more likely than not to induce somnolence among listeners.

On the upside, the recording engineers clearly sought to produce as natural a sound as possible. There is a sense of analog continuity and a richness to the bass region that is consistently pleasing. But the combination of a pinched treble region and a recessed soloist render this album something of a missed opportunity. It should have displayed more of a love for beauty.

Toptip's picture

Just listened to this while traveling, on Spotify (only the Handel and Rückert). Sounded rather nice actually. She has many instances of sustained highs, in the midrange, I wonder if those were poorly compressed to fit in grooves?

REG's picture

The Neumann U44 has a elevated response starting around 2k and running on up to 12k. Why would anyone expect it to reproduce the soprano voice correctly?

redchaser's picture

How are things at Bushwood?

Michael Fremer's picture
To what are you referring?
redchaser's picture

Apologies Mike, it's a corney Caddy Shack reference (Ty Webb is a character in the movie)

Michael Fremer's picture
my brain wasn't engaged..