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Hi-Res Audio Reviews - Classical
November 2002 - Part 3 of 3


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FRANCK: Sonata in A Major; BRAHMS: Sonata in D Major Op. 78; SCHUMANN: Adagio and Allegro Op. 70 - Pieter Wispelwey, cello/Paolo Giacometti, piano - Channel Classics multichannel SACD - CCS SA 18602:

Continuing in the French solo-string-with-piano mode, this SACD opens with one of the most beautiful works for cello and piano. Dutch cellist Wispelwey compares the opening movement of this work with the opening movement of the Brahms in his notes. He feels that have something in common, beyond their both having beautiful and lyrical music. He calls it pure musical inspiration, as if both men had been touched by gorgeous melodies and harmonies that were somehow presented to them. He summarizes it as a mix of generosity, emotionality and serenity. Wispelway has made a couple dozen recordings for this label now. Surrounds are used sparingly to give a feeling of the venue where the record was made. His cello timbre is not quite as rich as some other soloists, but with the clarity of DSD it doesn’t sound thinned out, and is perfectly balanced with the piano sound. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Two more “oldies but goodies” from the original Telarc Soundstream recordings now on SACD...
VIVALDI: The Four Seasons - Joseph Silverstein, violin/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa - Telarc stereo SACD SACD-60070:
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor;” Symphony No. 5 in C Minor - Rudolf Serkin, piano/Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa - Telarc stereo SACD SACD-60566:

The Telarc label began its digital recording history (after attempting some direct discs) with Thomas Stockham’s Soundstream recording system, which provided the best fidelity of alternatives available at that time. The system used a 50K sampling rate for an extending frequency response (up to 25KHz) and more detail. Unfortunately, data reduction of that signal to the 44.1K required to master CDs caused some losses of sonic quality. Now DSD recording, with its over 100KHz frequency response, allows the original Soundstream tapes to be remastered to DSD, preserving the original bandwidth and eliminating the awkward sample rate conversion from 50 down to 44.1. So Telarc has released a number of those Soundstream classics on stereo SACD, and these are two of them.

Well, no need to say much about the Vivaldi except that this is its biggest symphonic treatment worth listening to and a contrast to the usual small string versions. For Vivaldi with the Big sound it’s excellent and comparison of the original CD with this SACD shows a definitely hearable improvement. (The CD layer on the new disc doesn’t provide as much contrast.) Serkin recorded all five Beethoven piano concertos with Ozawa for Telarc, and the Fifth is the gem of the group in both performance and sound, not to mention being the culmination of the Classical Period piano concerto. The added transparency increased my aural appreciation of the interplay between piano and orchestra much more than with listening to the standard CD version. The other even more familiar Fifth on the disc is good but fails to stir up the excitement of Bernstein and several other competing versions. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Showpieces & Encores - The Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian - Delos multichannel SACD DS 3284:

This collection of 19 shorter and lighter selections for chamber orchestra displays the singing tone of the Russian players’ string section and the special virtuosity of some of their soloists on violin, flute and cello. Delos follows engineer John Eargle’s dictum of putting hall ambience in the surrounds and nothing else, so that is what you get here. Tracks: Grieg: Prelude from Holberg Suite, Tchaikovsky: Waltz from Serenade, The Moon Is Shining, 3 Russian Folk Songs, The Rush Light, Five Armenian Folk Songs, Bridge: Valse-Intermezzo, Vieuxtemps: Yankee Doodle, Gershwin: Summertime, Soon; Davidov: At the Fountain, Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, Rimsky-Korsakov: Bumblebee, Shostakovich: Spanish Dance from The Gadfly, Piazzolla: Libertango. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

SCARY MUSIC = 2 vocal soloists/sax soloist/3 choirs/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Kunzel - Telarc multichannel SACD - SACD-60580:

Just a bit late for Halloween comes this latest sonic extravaganza from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, with a bunch of guests and a bunch of fun sound effects in between some of the tracks - as they’ve done many times before. I’ll review the multichannel SFX first: You get the sounds of the Headless Horseman riding, a haunted fun house, a Martian landing, the sounds of ripe tomatoes on the rampage, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller done up with appropriate sound effects. All are loud and surrounding. Vocalist Joe McBride is heard in several of the novelty pop songs such as the theme from Ghostbusters and the Boris Karloff voice describing The Monster Mash. I had forgotten that Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was used on the soundtrack off The Exorcist; the two minute excerpt made me want to immediately slip in and immerse myself in the entire multichannel SACD of that wonderful apotheosis of multi channeling on Virgin (reviewed here about a year ago).

I’m sure with fare like this the Cincinnati Pops concert series has no problem selling out subscriptions, and it’s not bad on disc either though it may not be exactly music for the ages... Tracks: Themes from: Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, The Addams Family, The Exorcist, Ghostbusters, The Munsters, Martian Hop, Tales from the Crypt, Monster Mash, The Shining, Thriller, The Haunting, Dark Shadows, The Blob, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Two more from the 5.1-alternates-for-music DVD-A label, Tacet...
BACH: The Motets, BWV 225 - 229 - Sachsisches Vocal Ensemble/Matthias Jung - Tacet DVD-A DVD 108:

In the early 19th century it was thought that the Bach Motets were all a capella works, but today’s musicology has found that Bach’s own notes point to “the sung parts being enriched by all types of instruments.” Four of these Motets use a nine-piece ensemble plus pipe organ and the motet Jesu, meine Freude uses a cello and double bass together with organ. The works were an antiquated form even in Bach’s time and are a sort of window into the polyphony of past centuries. On the four motets with several instruments, they are placed directly in front with the organ at the center channel. The choir consists of just two quartets of soprano/alto/tenor/bass - one placed in a line on the left and the other on the right side - the sopranos at the far rear and the basses up near the stringed instruments on the left and near the wind instruments on the right side. This unusual placement draws in the listener much more effectively than the mostly-frontal approach. I usually find such choral works low on my interest scale, but in this case I situated myself and listened really closely, enjoying the intricate play of voices and instruments that were so cleanly placed in space around me. There were no translations in the booklet; it would have been nice to use the visual DVD-A capability to display them on the screen, but Tacet goes for the “slip-in-the-disc-and-play” approach and only displays the selection titles on the screen if you want to access that. Purchase Here

SCHUBERT: String Quintet In C Major D956 - Auryn Quartet/Christian Poltera, cello - Tacet DVD-A D 110:

This glorious chamber work was composed in the last months of Schubert’s life. It is full of wonderful melodies as befits the creator of songs. The principle of contrasts is used in the quintet, vacillating between ecstatic happiness and the depths of desperation and grief. The performance is committed and skillful. Again, the label’s Andreas Spreer feels that since a sound-carrier is by definition a synthetic product, it is appropriate to place the musicians more imaginatively than can be achieved with only a two-channel recording. The first page of the enclosed booklet shows the layout - the viola is dead front on the center channel (woe be it if you lack a center channel - you’ll have to make sure its signal is shared by the left and right as suggested with the Artegra discs reviewed above). The first violin is on the L front channel and the second violin on the R front channel. The first cello is at the right rear surround and the second cello at the left rear surround. Ever wondered what it was like to play in a chamber group such as this? Well, choose your instrument and sit close to that speaker. You’ll get a pretty good idea. (The next step would be to feed the lowest frequencies on that particular channel to a tactile transducer mounted to your chair to get a physical feeling of actually playing the instrument. Don’t scoff - it really works.) Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Three more from an impressive-looking new DVD-A series that unfortunately shares one fault...

MOZART: Symphony No. 40 - Europa Philharmonia Budapest/Maximianno Cobra - DVD-A (also DTS) Hodie Essentia Series (no number)
MOZART: Requiem (Complete) - Soloists/Europa Philharmonia Budapest Orchestra & Choir/Maximianno Cobra - DVD-A (also DTS) Hodie Essentia Series (no number) (2 discs)
MOZART: Overtures, Album I = Don Giovanni, La Betulia liberata, The Clemency of Titus, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte - Europa Philharmonia Budapest/Maximianno Cobra - DVD-A (also DTS) Hodie Essentia Series (no number)
(There are also two more volumes of Mozart Overtures in the series.)

This new label provides their DVD-As in the standard tall cases used for most DVD-Video movies. With the first release (reviewed last month) - of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony - this was appropriate because in addition to all the various sound options it also offered a complete music video of the entire performance. Unfortunately, that is not continued with any of these other discs. They promise a slide show but all that appears onscreen is a single slide with images of Mozart and the conductor with the title superimposed. Other choices here are many however: The side of the discs that is compatible for all standard DVD-video players contains not only the normal 5.1 Dolby Digital-encoded tracks but also DTS 5.1 and Stereo PCM at 48K/16 bit. The DVD-A side of the discs has two groups of audio options: 2-channel stereo at 192K/24 bit, and 5.1 channel surround at the maximum 96K/24 bit for that format. Due to the length of the Mozart Requiem, two separate discs are required instead of two sides of the same disc. The stereo DVD-A is on one side of Disc 1 with the multichannel on the flip side; the video presentation covers both sides of the second disc.

The packaging and production are very well carried out. The quality of the Beethoven Ninth video was a bit strange (totally black background) but otherwise very professional. The DVD-A multichannel sonics are clean and effectively enveloping, with very little front channel difference between the 96K surround signals and the 192K strictly stereo signals. The problem here, with every one of these discs, is the tempi. They are s-l-o w...way too slow. It sounds like one is present at a rehearsal wherein the conductor said “OK, to clean up all these little clams, let’s just take it at half speed all the way thru.” One wants to get behind these Hungarians and push! I felt the Requiem might be passable considering the elegiac mood of the work in general, but it’s just as slow as the rest. It makes one suspect the only way the conductor could get these musicians to play perfectly was at such a reduced tempo. The only use I can think of for these discs is perhaps for a beginning conducting student to play them while following the scores. There’s a pro studio meter called the Russian Dragon. Using the timecode track on recordings it measures whether the musicians are “rushin’” or “draggin’” the beat! If only that gadget could be reversed in operation somehow to speed up the tempi without raising the pitches! There is such a gadget to speed up spoken voice for broadcast use, but I don’t know if it can handle music without distorting it.

- John Sunier

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