Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Jeremy R. Kipnis Collection

I can't believe it's been more than six weeks since Colleen and I visited with Jeremy and Carolina Kipnis at their home in rural Connecticut. That home, of course, is the location of the famous Kipnis Studio Standard (KSS) facility, perhaps the most awesome home theater installment on the face of the earth. Colleen and I had stopped by after the New York Audio Show at the beginning of May to drop off a pair of MAD Baron loudspeakers for Jeremy to review. We hooked them up, made sure everything sounded right, and then the four of us headed to back patio for some breakfast.

If you know Jeremy and Carolina, whether it's personally or from their very entertaining Facebook pages, you'll know that they're fun, fun people. Jeremy, of course, is the son of piano and harpsichord legend Igor Kipnis, and is well-established on his own as a writer, music and film producer and the proud designer of KSS. Carolina is an opera singer and well-known voice instructor. She also happens to share Colleen's obsession with bacon, and we were treated to a porcine masterpiece for breakfast--beautiful, lean center-cut bacon brushed with real maple syrup and lovingly cooked in an oven. It was perhaps the best bacon I've eaten, and I've gorged on some damn fine pork belly in my life.

We were also joined by the equally famous Nero Von Barky Schanuzer, the Kipnis' miniature schnauzer who also manages his own Facebook page. Since Colleen and I have a very gifted and famous miniature schnauzer as well, it appeared that the four of us had plenty in common.

Before breakfast was over, Jeremy had retrieved a stack of seven CDs and set them on the table. He worked on all seven for both Chesky and Epiphany Recordings throughout the 1990s--as either producer, remastering engineer, editor or transferring engineer--and he wanted us to have them as a thank you for stopping by. Both Chesky and Epiphany have a stellar reputation for sound quality (many of these CDs are currently available in hi-rez versions for download on HDTracks, which of course is connected with David Chesky), and I had already mentioned to Jeremy back at the show that I was struggling to find decent source material for our Unison Research Unico CDE CD player when we exhibited at shows. Once the Unison Research DAC comes out later in the year, we'll have more options. Jeremy's CDs, in other words, were a very welcome gift.

Light Classics: Volume II. I started off with this recording, despite the fact that "light classics" is usually a euphemism for elevator music. After reviewing the song selections on the back of the case--Puccini, Moussorgsky, Dvorak, Verdi, Smetana and others--I knew this wasn't going to be a Mantovani festival. I suppose these pieces are titled "light classics" because they are melodic, familiar and fluid, but this isn't superfluous or capricious music. Conductor Charles Gerhardt, working with several orchestras including the London Pops and the Royal Philharmonic, infuses this CD with deep, soothing and ultimately delicate selections. In fact, if I was to apply one single word to Jeremy's bulk of work, it would be that--delicate.

Mongo Santamaria and Friends: Mambo Mongo. I do remember this one when it came out during Chesky's earlier years--it was part of a handful of releases that focused on Latin music. Jeremy warned me, "there isn't a lot of deep bass in this recording--because there's isn't a lot of deep bass in the performance." That said, it's a very dynamic recording with plenty of percussion and brass, and it will get you tapping your feet.

Epiphany Recordings Concert & Test Sampler. I'm gaining a new respect for music samplers, which usually contain so many wonderful demo tracks that I can use at trade shows. This sampler, however, offers close to an hour of consistently beautiful recordings of pieces from Handel, Franck, Brahms, Schubert, Beethoven and Telemann before launching into the test program with tools for assessing channel balance, phase, absolute polarity, variable bit depth and frequency response. Plenty of products exist that will help you achieve better sound, but few contain music as gorgeous and as plentiful as this one.

Vivaldi" The Four Seasons--The Connecticut Early Music Festival Ensemble. I have plenty of recordings of The Four Seasons, to tell you the truth; this was the piece that introduced a teenage me, along with countless others on this planet, to the wonders of classical music. My go-to performance is from the BIS recording of the Drottningholm Ensemble, but this offers a more delicate--there's that word again--counterpoint to the more bombastic Swedish performance. The perspective is very different from what I'm used to, and conductor Igor Kipnis is intent on creating something original and thoughtful from a piece that needs an alternative perspective in order to be worthwhile--at least in my opinion. This recording will be fun to employ in an A/B comparison to the BIS recording. Both are splendid, yet worlds apart.

The Instrument of Kings: 18th Century Music for Flute and Keyboard. This one took me by complete surprise; it has the stodgiest cover but the music inside is light and airy and transcendent. This recording features John Solum on flutes, Igor Kipnis on keyboards and Arthur Fiacco on cello, and the pieces from Baroque composers such as Handel, Scarlatti, Telemann and Vinci are really what I've been searching for lately--stunning Baroque performances that are captured well in the studio. It was raining cats and dogs in Texas the first time I listened to this CD; is there any better way to listen to Baroque music like this?

The Yale Russian Chorus: Chants and Carols. Different from most choral recordings I own, which seek to envelop you in a homogenized wall of human sound, this recording is quiet and intropsective and truly draws you inside its cavernous spaces. Featuring no less than 26 choral works from Russian composers, followed by a choral imaging test and a dynamic range demostration, this recording is so consistently soft and subtle that the music actually disappears when you go to the next room. This is music that requires dedicated concentration, which will then be rewarded.

The Young Beethoven: Igor Kipnis, Fortepiano. The first time I played this CD, I thought my hi-fi was busted. That's because I'm woefully ignorant of the fortepiano. Compared to modern pianos, the older fortepiano sounds clunky and buzzy and thin--that's perhaps one of the reasons why the more dynamic and fluid modern piano gained favor and caused the fortepiano to fade into near oblivion by the beginning of the 19th century. Fortunately, Igor Kipnis was a true modern master of the fortepiano and he could easily extract the beauty from its distinctive, somewhat primitive sound. This recording, featuring early works by another fortepiano player named Beethoven, serves as a definitive introduction to this instrument, something I reluctantly admit that I needed.

Once again, thanks goes out to Jeremy and Carolina for a wonderful spring day in Connecticut, and for this wonderful music!


  1. That MAD Baron speaker is wonderful. Funny looking though (LOL). Heard it in the Care Audio room at the NY AUdio show, hooked up to a big ALLNIC tube amp. Just a wonderful sound.

  2. Is Jeremy R. Kipnis the only audio-guru out there experimenting with the sound quality merits of using copper - as opposed to the bog-standard aluminum - in CD manufacturing?