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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Fiona Joy Hawkins & Rebecca Daniel: Heavenly Voices (DSD Download Review)


The Album
The Audio
The Supplements


A superb collaboration between two internationally acclaimed Australian musicians--pianist Fiona Joy Hawkins and violinist Rebecca Daniels in a program of nine original compositions that is evocative, moving, and, in some instances, otherworldly. It receives a demonstration-quality recording in the Blue Coast Records studio that will enchant and delight its listeners.

Heavenly VoicesThe Performance

I first met the internationally acclaimed Australian composer/pianist Fiona Joy Hawkins seven years ago while I was reviewing her album Signature-Solo that had just been recorded for Cookie Marenco’s Blue Coast Records. I have since heard all of Fiona Joy’s Blue Coast albums as well as her collaboration with New Age pioneer Will Ackerman, Lawrence Blatt and Jeff Oster, a group known collectively as FLOW, in a 2018 Carnegie Hall concert. This new Blue Coast recording pairs Fiona Joy with fellow Australian musician violinist Rebecca Daniel whose long list of successful performances has taken her from the U.K. to the land Down Under. In addition, both are excellent vocalists–Rebecca is a soprano and Fiona Joy is an alto.This duo has collaborated in the composing, performing, and recording of new music during the past ten years.  Their new disc Heavenly Voices for violin and piano has the following nine selections:

  • Finding The Way Out (5:09)
  • Interwoven Threads of Chance (4:53)
  • Lake of Contemplation (5:34)
  • The Bit in The Middle (3:22)
  • Elegy (5:19)
  • Sugar Plum Ghost (4:06)
  • The Lightness of Dark (10:28)
  • Ghosts Insanity Angels (5:41)
  • Heavenly Voices (4:38)

Fiona Joy considers as some of her musical influences the romantic era composers like Felix Mendelssohn and Frederic Chopin as well as contemporary composers Max Richter, Michael Nyman, and Ludovico Einaudi. But, as these original compositions clearly demonstrate, FJ has developed her own musical idiom that often reweaves themes and chord progressions into rich musical fabrics capable of enwrapping listeners and letting them go on their own emotional journeys. As the titles of this program’s selections suggest, there are also personal journeys that both musicians take as they attempt to find their way through the landscapes of sound that reflect the varying themes of uncertainty (“Finding The Way Out”), loss (“Elegy”), and finally, hope (“Heavenly Voices”). “The Lightness of Dark,” the longest piece in this set, like the preceding “Sugar Plum Ghost,” and the finale “Heavenly Voices” beautifully interlaces some ethereal vocalises with the violin-piano duets.  Taken as a whole, the obvious collegiality shared between Fiona Joy Hawkins and Rebecca Daniel, the result of performing together for a decade, yields a program by musical coequals that will both enchant and move its audience.

The Audio

No one has to convince me of the sonic superiority of native DSD file formats when it comes to mastering musical performances. Cookie Marenco’s E.S.E. (Extended Sound Environment) Blue Coast recordings leverage the advantages of steering clear of the PCM digital domain and, in this recording, originally made in DSD256,  listeners will appreciate the tonal warmth that real instruments produce in live performances. You get to hear the piano’s rich harmonics, pedals, and natural sound decay while also appreciating the intimate vibrato of the violin strings. This recording places the players clearly in your room with a soundstage that is both broad and deep and very realistic imaging of both instruments. While this download is “only” in DSD64—the format can go up to DSD512—this is demonstration-quality sound at its finest.

The Supplements

A pdf-formatted photo of the cover art is supplied with download.

The Final Assessment

Well recorded and well performed compositions for acoustic instruments are among the main reasons that so many audiophiles spend so much money on their prized sound systems. After hearing this Heavenly Voices download on my reference system, I felt that I had received a very high return on a very large investment. The premium price of such a high caliber digital download is more than justified when it is capable of delivering performances and sonics as good as this one does. Highest recommendation.

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Heavenly Voices will be available for purchase at the Blue Coast Records website on March 19, 2021

  • Label: Blue Coast Records
  • Artist: Fiona Joy Hawkins | Rebecca Daniels
  • Producer: Cookie Marenco
  • Run Time: 49 Mins.
  • Original MSRP: $40.00
  • Release Date: 19 March 2021
  • Audio Format: DSD64 Download

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