The Best Kind of Attitude: TACET

Mike Silverton

[July 2004.]

Some while ago, perhaps a few months, I requested review CDs from TACET, a German label with which I’d little familiarity. Having listened several times over to Beethoven’s six Op.18 String Quartets (TACET 124) and Wilhelm Furtwängler’s Piano Quintet (TACET 119), as a music lover and audiophile (in close to equal measure), I’m here to shout “Eureka!”

Cover of Tacet 124

The Auryn String Quartet (Mathias Lingfelder, Jens Oppermann, violins; Stewart Eaton, viola; Andreas Arndt, cello) tend toward a Classical rather than Romantic sensibility. The later quartets have yet to be released. Whether the Auryn’s posture changes remains to be heard. With respect to Op.18’s half-dozen, the players operate as a coherent, elegantly articulating being, declining to milk the tender moments dry. Similarly, the sturm und drang passages are handled with a distancing poise that satisfies. Proportionality reigns. These are cool, beautiful performances relating in a fascinating way to journalist Ulrich Oesterle’s statement below regarding production aims.

Cover of Tacet 119

In order to discuss via contrast TACET’s thoughts on performance and sound — for the audiophile, the most engaging of subjects — we have Furtwängler’s outré Piano Quintet, with the Clarens Quintet (Gernot Süssmuth, Eva Schönweiss, violins; Felix Schwartz, viola; Andreas Greger, cello; Sebastian Krahnert, piano). Bruckner would have approved. The music is huge. You can substitute bloated without inflicting harm. The harmonic idiom looks more to late-19th-century decadence than the time of the quintet’s eventual conclusion, the mid-1930s, though here one might argue otherwise. In any event, as I hear them, the music’s salient endearments are those of an uneasy, Guinness-Book coitus.

Quite apart from the usual marks of production excellence — exemplary transparency, dynamic detail, timbral accuracy, harmonic complexity and a soundstage befitting the ensemble’s size — we discover taste. The recording venue for both two-disc sets is DeutschlandRadio’s Funkhaus Köln, with its superior acoustics. The Furtwängler’s milieu is decidedly more humid than that of the Beethoven quartets. My guess is that the hardware was tweaked, with great success, to suit the music’s style and needs.

Let me turn this over to Ulrich Oesterle:

The sound of all TACET recordings is achieved by completely natural means. As a first step, the instruments or voices we record must have a good sound of their own. Before the recording process begins, the acoustic event must be as good as it can possibly get. We use no device or adjustment (filters, limiters, digital echo, etc.) to alter the sound synthetically. The TACET tonmeister does not manipulate the sound event. His art is difficult and tricky: to listen to the music and do everything possible to develop it to the maximum.

As, however, a recording is impossible without electronic equipment, TACET uses the best on the market. We are always testing new developments: the latest A/D converter, advances in dummy head stereophony, high definition sound-carrier formats, etc. But TACET also makes use of older, tried-and-tested technology wherever this is clearly superior. For example, valve microphones are better for some recordings than microphones developed more recently.

But what is quite new is the TACET method of positioning the microphones, an art in itself. And cutting is only done where the music permits it. Of course one cannot normally hear arbitrary cuts, but many recordings nowadays convey a somewhat disjointed impression, as if the artist had concentrated more on the details than on the whole. TACET recordings must never sound as if they have come from one mold. Indeed, this is one of the aims of TACET’s recording policy. An individual recording technique supports the music’s essence. The performers’ ideas are clarified. For example, with an orchestral work by W.A. Mozart, as a rule it does not make sense to emphasize the wind instruments with the aid of a large number of microphones. The mixture of sounds — a decisive component in Mozart’s instrumentation — would get lost. Different microphones are not used just for the fun of it but rather as the result of careful thought about each piece of music and the best way of putting it across.

The TACET sound has been described as sensuous and subtle at the same time. Anyone wishing to follow the thoughts behind TACET recording technique piece by piece can refer to the TACET Production No. 17: The Microphone. A variety of old-fashioned valve microphones are described in it in detail. However, real audiophile recordings do not rely on recording technology alone. They depend on excellent musicians giving their very best and a sustaining excellence of recording technique. TACET offers all this in plenty.

Contact http://www.proclassics.de/ or hoogenvd@aol.com.

[Walt Mundkowsky adds these thoughts and information:]

Cover of Tacet 13

[Johann Sebastian BACH: Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080. Evgeni Koroliov, Ljupka Hadzigeorgieva (piano). TACET 13 (2 CDs, 40:09 + 43:42).

The star of the TACET roster is likely émigré Russian pianist Evgeni Koroliov. His 1990 studio performance of Bach’s fugal testament ranks among the glories of the catalog (it’s György Ligeti’s Desert Island Disc). The twist of focus Bach on the piano usually requires isn’t a factor. Indeed, the instrument can even be favored in such abstract music, as the keyboard sound most familiar to us — what Charles Rosen suggested. His playing (on Sony SB2K 63231) of course makes a stronger case yet.

Describing why Koroliov astounds isn’t easy. His virtuoso technique seems to vanish inside the music — no curious articulations, dynamics or tempos. The spare pedaling never imitates a harpsichord. Similarly, the recording projects a beautifully focused piano — the whole, not a mass of disembodied details. For The Art of Fugue fanciers: Koroliov inserts the canons along the entire span, rather than doing them as a group; and he plays the great unfinished fugue without supplying his own resolution. In an appendix, he and Ljupka Hadzigeorgieva (his duo partner) deliver two fugues for two keyboards (outtakes of Contrapunctus 13). Anyone who cares about this monumental summa — not as a theoretical exercise, but as a living work — has to have this set.

TACET’s US distributor is Spinning Dog Records (http://www.spinningdogrecords.com/). Or the discs can be ordered from Germany on the company website (http://www.tacet.de/).]