February 2000

Adrian Brinkerhoff - Himalaya Sessions Vol. 1: The Day In D Flat
Albany Records TROY 358
Released: 1999

by Roger Kanno

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on 24/96 DVD]The Himalaya Sessions is not your typical music DVD. It is a high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz recording of reclusive pianist Adrian Brinkerhoff accompanied by hundreds of pages of text and photographs from the artist and the producer that chronicle their thoughts and reflections on this recording. To capture the sounds of Brinkerhoff, the production crew trekked into the remoteness of the Himalayas where Brinkerhoff reportedly would play piano for passing travelers in an abandoned monastery. An all-night recording session yielded the performance contained on this DVD as well as additional material that has yet to be released. During the return journey, an avalanche claimed the lives of all but one of the production crew, and soon afterwards it is reported that Brinkerhoff had gone missing. Many of the photos and text were taken from his pack that was recovered after he disappeared.

The text contains some information regarding the circumstances surrounding both the disappearance of Brinkerhoff and the tragedy that befalls the expedition, but it does not go into details. While the musings of Brinkerhoff on his music are interesting, accessing the many pages of text on the DVD is unwieldy. The information contained on the DVD is mirrored on a website (www.himalaysessions.com), which contains additional information pertaining to audio components recommended for its playback. The list of components is made up of mostly obvious choices from Mark Levinson, Krell, B&W, dCS, etc.

Although the fidelity of the 24/96 track is good (there is also a two-channel Dolby Digital track included), it is not up to the standards of DADs from Chesky or Classic or even of a really good 16-bit CD. I found the sound to be very detailed but with diffuse imaging that varies from track to track. Difficulties in the recording of the performance are alluded to in the text, such as barometric pressure and the acoustics of the monastery as well as the various microphone configurations that were used for each piece. The recording fails to capture a sense of the recording space, and the piano often sounds ghostly and disembodied. There is also a lack of bass that may be due in part to the low atmospheric pressure, but nonetheless, the lower registers of the piano are thin and lacking in the richness that well-recorded piano possesses.

The selections that Brinkerhoff performs on this recording are from Chopin, Debussy, Liszt, Copland, Rachmaninoff, and Satie that are meant to chronicle the temporal progression of a day. The flow of the program is generally good, but sometimes the transition between the pieces is abrupt. My favorite selections are Copland’s "Down a Country Lane," which provides a breath of fresh air and respite in its simplicity, and Debussy’s "Clair De Lune," which I think best displays Brinkerhoff’s sense of timing. While there are flashes of brilliance in Brinkerhoff’s playing, such as in Debussy’s "Reflets Dans L’eau" and Liszt’s "Un Sospiro," the inconsistent quality of the recording often made it difficult for me to connect with the music. Although this is not a valid criticism of the performance, I was still disappointed by the quality of this purported "audiophile" recording.

The Himalaya Sessions is an interesting concept in music software, but it is lacking in its execution. While I am not one who believes that you have to suffer for the sake of art, I respect Brinkerhoff’s convictions. I only wish that this DVD could have better conveyed his message.