Why Madrigal?

Mike Silverton

[March 1998. Originally appeared in La Folia 1:1.]

It says here in “30 Days to a Pulitzer” that the best titles are always terse. I’d intended to say “So How Come a Record Review on Madrigal’s Webpage?” but, as I paid for this course, I see little to be gained in blowing off Lesson One.

Very well, then. To begin just short of a happy outcome, it was I who approached Madrigal. That’s an important point. Le déluge, c’est moi. As to why, we begin in happy late middle-age with a pair of Wilson WATT/Puppy 5.1’s. Dave Wilson “voices” his speaker systems with networked cables. At a get-together at Lyric Hi-Fi in Manhattan, The Abso!ute Sound’s editor, Harry Pearson, introduced me to Karen Sumner, president of Transparent Audio of Hollis, Maine, a manufacturer of networked interconnects and speaker cables. Briefly (Lesson Two: Get to the Point), I have borrowed and bought three ascending levels of Transparent cabling, Ultra, Reference, and Reference XL (this last, a purchase), and developed en route a cordial relationship with the lady abovementioned. In answer to a request for advice (for which I thank her daily), Karen spoke enthusiastically of Madrigal’s Mark Levinson line with particular regard to Levinson’s true-differential balanced circuitry vis-à-vis my desire for a pair of Reference XL balanced interconnects. On the strength of Karen’s good opinion and enthusiastic Stereophile reviews, I acquired the Mark Levinson No.333 Dual Monaural Power Amplifier and No.39 CD Processor, and in so doing developed a similarly friendly relationship with Madrigal’s Dave Nauber, with whom I first raised the online proposal. Dave’s read some of my music writing and found the notion worthy of pursuit.

So why, you ask (Lesson Three: Involve the Reader), didn’t I simply strike out on my own? Two reasons: First, there’s the assistance I’d receive in a cyberspatial adventure, about which I boast an insurmountable ignorance, and second – well, let’s call it the prestige factor (Lesson Four: Be Truthful), because that’s what it is. Not to hone too fine a point, I love this Levinson stuff and craved the association as a kind of “good sound, good music” partnership.

(Lesson Five: The Résumé.) I’ve been contributing to Fanfare, a bi-monthly, for about a dozen years, and rather more spottily to The Abso!ute Sound for something less than half that time. Inasmuch as I see La Folia’s audience as audiophile in deed or aspiration, the notion of a review distributing its emphasis on the music and its performance, as well as on recording as art-object apart seemed, for this supplicant (to say it again), an ideal arrangement, appearing as it does under a respected high-end aegis. Needless to mention, Madrigal Audio has its own, entirely logical motivation: to attract readers to its webpage.

(Lesson Six: How to Preen without Giving Offense.) Pride of possession comprises a generous measure of the citizen-audiophile’s raison d’être. The music-reviewer audiophile has the convenience of camouflage, the issue becoming one of disclosure, as in, “Just who is this presumptuous ass?” I listen to recordings in a residential loft with high ceilings, brick walls, and lots of diffusive-absorptive built-ins and irregular surfaces. (My wife, Lee, is an interior designer by profession, and we share a passion for art, with which the place is stuffed.) Most knowledgeable visitors judge the loft a sonic plus. My sound system – the Wilson W/P’s, Levinson amp and CD player with its necessary volume control, and Transparent Reference XL cabling – lacks as an intentional omission a preamp and the means to spin vinyl. With regard to LPs, I sold a collection years ago in order to make some sorely needed space. With regard to short measure, I cannot in good conscience lay claim to the discovery, since everyone agrees in principle that as regards l’Affaire signalpathique, Less is more, with apologies to Mies van der Rohe. I do not contend that the system defies improvement. The true-blue audiophile would sooner eat his galoshes. I do say, however, that if resolution, transparency, soundstage coherency, timbral accuracy, and dynamic detail define an ideal, the setup does handsomely in all departments. Further (Lesson Seven: When to Rattle Cages), Signor Scardanelli and I have long been content with the compact disc’s abilities, as the first of this issue’s essays will address in some historic and inevitably contentious detail.

(Lesson Eight: Staking Claims.) La Folia’s mission differs from that of the audiophile press in that we propose to cover music in the main neglected elsewhere. My own interests center on art music of the mid-to-latter 20th century and far less systematically on free and improvisational jazz. Signor Scardanelli and I comprise, for the present, the totality of La Folia’s contributors. I do expect our ranks to expand. As I say, our musical interests tend to the esoteric. However (Lesson Nine: The Clincher), lest you dismiss us as a pair of posturing, contrarian snoots, we will also make it our business to comment on recordings of more familiar fare, e.g., in this issue, a Living Stereo CD reissue of Charles Munch conducting the Boston SO in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, and somewhat less recent performances under Elliott Gardiner’s baton of the Beethoven symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon’s Archiv imprint. With respect to “Lest we forget,” La Folia will spend a good deal of its time on discs that have been around the block a few times and, of course, recent releases of interest.

(Lesson Ten: The Meaningful Postscript.) And please, do by all means print out these cyberpages. You might also like to frame a few.