It seems quite the norm these days for audiophile recording labels to offer a sampler or demo tape that contains extracts from their tape library, and the UK’s Chasing The Dragon is no exception. Run by the husband and wife team of Mike and Françoise Valentine, Chasing The Dragon offers a wide range of classical and jazz recordings, and an eclectic mix of no less than sixteen tracks from their repertoire are now available on a new sampler tape.
The tapes are usually mastered on ½ inch tape by either a Sony APR 5003 or a Studer A820 master tape recorder. The use of ½ inch tapes during the recording sessions significantly reduces tape noise, and it’s from these tapes that the ¼ inch copy masters are produced. Of course, no noise reduction systems are used as they would degrade the analogue audio signal. The end result is a copy master tape of astounding audio quality and this is beautifully exemplified by this 15ips ¼ inch sampler tape.
The sixteen tracks
First up is a concerto for two mandolins by Vivaldi. This was recorded in Venice using a Decca Tree, which employs three Neumann M50 microphones, to capture all of the atmosphere as well as the detail of this superb piece of music. The detail of the mandolins is superb and the clean plucking of the instruments is wonderful.
The next two tracks both feature a performance of J S Bach’s Prelude from his ‘Cello Suite No. 1’ played by the internationally-renowned cellist, Justin Pearson. The first of the two was performed inside a church and the second was recorded outside in the church grounds. This allows the listener to compare the acoustic effects of the two settings. The first track shows off all the ambience of the church, which is in perfect balance with the detail of the cello. The second track is more focused around the instrument and lacks the ambience as would be expected, apart from a passing aeroplane!
Moving back indoors for the next track, this time we are treated to some female vocals sung by soprano Daisy Brown performing Mozart’s ‘Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln’, accompanied by the church organ. Brown’s melodious vocals are moving and really beautiful.
Track 5 of the Rondeau from ‘Sinfonie de Fanfares’ by Jean-Joseph Mouret demonstrates great brass playing. The strident but not overly harsh trumpet fanfares are commanding and crystal clear. This piece is followed by a live recording of the Finale of the ‘Force of Destiny’ by Verdi, where the full orchestra builds to a commanding climax with all the energy and power that is to be expected from this piece of music.
For a complete change of mood, the next track is a live recording of some jazz performed in a nightclub of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. The ambience of this live performance is splendidly captured and I feel instantly transported to the venue of the nightclub.
Next up is a beautiful recording of an 18th century Welsh love song ‘Watching the Wheat’ played on a harp. The complexity of the instrument and the lovely fingering are captured very well indeed.
Then we return to the nightclub with a nice piece of jazz improvisation performed on a solo saxophone. The cool jazz swings along from start to finish and is really quite captivating.
A second piece sung by soprano Daisy Brown is entitled ‘Agnus Dei’ by Mozart. This time, Brown is accompanied on the piano and her soaring vocals are exuberant and very clear, even during the crescendos.
Track 11 is another improvisation, but this time played on the piano by Bruce Davidson. This piece of modern jazz is captured really well on this recording and the piano really does sound like I’m listening to a live instrument in my room.
Another full orchestral piece is the Finale of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’. As this final movement fades in to herald the final well-known melody, it builds to an exciting climax and ends with well-deserved applause from the audience.
For some choral music, a lovely rendition of ‘Ave Maria’ is sung by a choir accompanied by the organ. The piece begins with a solo melody sung by a choirboy, who is then joined by the rest of the choir for the remainder of the piece. What really stands out is the atmosphere of the church venue, which never over-powers the clarity of the singing.
Track 14 is the conclusion of ‘Spanish Dance No.1’ by Falla played on the harp. The pace and momentum of this energetic and tuneful piece is carried along splendidly to the conclusion.
The penultimate track is the ‘Lute Suite No. 3’ by J S Bach played on a guitar. This expert performance is delightful and, once again, all the detail of the instrument is beautifully captured in this recording.
Finally, there’s a beautiful Tarantella by Sarasate. The opening melody played on the violin is moving and quite captivating. The depth and overall three-dimensionality of the orchestra is superb. The excitement builds to a climax as the piece progresses, and the superb playing of the tuneful gymnastics on the violin is an exhilarating conclusion to the tape.
This is a really well-assembled set of tracks that can be enjoyed both as a demo tape for dipping into or, if you prefer, you can listen from start to finish and immerse yourself in what is a lovely collection of music. This 15ips copy master tape can be yours for £360 from www.chasingthedragon.co.uk/quarterinchcopymastertapes
Neville Roberts is a man of many interests and talents. As well as being a regular contributor to Hi-Fi Choice magazine, he’s a retired UK National Health Service (NHS) director, electronics engineer and physicist. He’s also a lifelong audio enthusiast with a particular interest in valve/tube audio design, and a devotee of vinyl and tape. Neville enjoys an eclectic range of music including classical, especially baroque, light orchestral and jazz. He lives with his wife near Bournemouth in Dorset, UK, where he grows orchids and is a keen photographer.