Multichannel SACDs - December 2001

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Super Audio CDs for this month - Both Stereo & Multichannel

The Artistry of Teresa Perez, Cello - First Impression Music Multichannel SACD M041:

Two tech details of this disc are unusual: First, although it is a hybrid SACD pressing (as are just about everyone's except for Sony Music's own!) only the second half of the program of 22 tracks is in SACD Surround - the first 13 tracks are in stereo only. The other unusual detail is that if you lack either stereo or multichannel SACD playback facilities but do have a HDCD decoder for your 44.1 CDs, you will benefit from the

The selections come from the previous three albums that virtuoso cellist Perez made for FIM. The first four tracks of the stereo section are from an album she recorded with the Harold Farberman All Star Percussion Ensemble - highly unusual but very listenable and audiophilish arrangements to be sure! They consist of a Haydn theme, Schubert's Ave Maria, Gershwin's Summertime, and Hoagy Carmichael's Up a Lazy River. In addition to conductor-composer Farberman's, the other arrangers involved in this compilation are Tim Gorman and his Ensemble and Tim Janis and his Ensemble. Noted mastering and recording engineer Paul Stubblebine writes in the notes about the decision to record the synthesizers of Gorman's group "live" along with the acoustic instruments instead of feeding their signals directly into the mix as is normally done. Thus the ambient sound heard on the synthesized portions is perfectly natural and their sounds dovetail more smoothly with the cello and other instruments. Since most of the nine multichannel selections are also heard during the opening stereo portion, it makes an interesting A/B comparison to program the player (if it is multichannel) to play first the stereo track and then the multichannel track. Subtle use of the surrounds pervades the multichannel mixes - sometimes almost not there until you switch off the surrounds entirely - but in every case the surround version provided a more natural and enveloping acoustic, spotlighting the cello more and at the same time placing the other instruments more precisely on the soundstage.

- John Sunier

Bourbon & Rosewater - Jerry Douglas, dobro/Viswa Mohan Bhatt, Mohan vina/Edgar Meyer, acoustic bass - Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-47-SACD stereo:

Water Lily's CEO, Kavi Alexander, has produced a series of audiophile LPs and CDs revolving around unique musical meeting grounds between East and West. The impetus for this trio was his feelings about the similarities between the metal-resonator dobro guitar played by bluegrass whiz Douglas and the unique modified guitar created and played by Hindustani musician Bhatt. It has three main strings, four drone strings and a dozen sympathetic strings and is a sort of souped-up Western sitar. Versatile bassist Meyer has been involved in several of the Appalachian-oriented albums that have come out on Sony Classical lately, and he is also a straight classical as well as jazz soloist and a composer to boot. Exquisite melodies from various folk traditions form the building blocks for the eight astounding improvisations heard here. The Django influence is strong in Gypsies from Rajasthan, while bluegrass is heard in Mississippi Mud. Some of the exchanges between the two main instruments sound like the more exciting moments of traditional Indian music exchanges of raga improvisations between, say, sitar and tabla or two sitars. But there is much more variety and unexpected sounds; this music should appeal to many listeners who just can't get into Indian music. The original analog/tube mike recording was made in a chapel in Santa Barbara and beautifully preserves the most subtle string intonations of the three instruments as well as their physical separation from one another.

- John Sunier

Dallas Christmas Gala - Dallas Symphony Chorus/David R. Davidson; Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton; Dallas Handbell Ensemble/ Teresa Gomez, sop./Blake Davidson, bar. - Delos Multichannel SACD 3267:

There's no problem putting together a musical program for the holidays - Christmas is more closely associated with music than any other holiday we celebrate. For the Dallas audiences the Symphony assembles a varied pop concert sort of program with special arrangements that tend toward the Big Effect. And now that the label's VR2 surround process can finally be played back using six discrete full range channels the listener can be right in the middle of the celebration. (For those without SACD playback, the Dolby Surround 44.1 CD layer can still create a worthwhile enveloping soundfield when used with a good matrix decoder and surround speakers.) There's some big brass flourishes and fanfares, arrangements of some early polyphony, a couple numbers in which the handbell choir chimes in, and a couple suites, Boston Pops style, of seasonal tunes such as Jingle Bells and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Altogether a good demonstration of the attractions of SSfM [Surround Sound for Music] that I hope is being demoed on many home theater sales floors to show that you don't always have to have images on the screen to enjoy your surround sound system.

HANDEL: Messiah (complete) - Soloists/Swedish Radio Sym. Orch./Stockholm Bach Choir/Anders Öhrwall - Prophone/FIM stereo SACD 039:

First Impression Music not only issues original recordings but brings to discerning audiophiles some great past recordings by others that set both musical and fidelity standards. This live recording of Messiah, made in a Stockholm Church back in l982 for the Prophone label, was felt to be worthy of such a remastering. Incidently, that year fell 240 years after the premiere of the oratorio in 1742 in Dublin. The Stockholm Bach Choir is superb and the probably unknown soloists are also tops. Due to the staging setup at the concert, they all are heard from the left side of the soundstage. This is one of the few double disc SACD issues thus far. The 44.1 CD version is also HDCD encoded, as with the above cello disc. The robustness of the ambient information from this analog live recording would probably make for a very natural surround field if ported to any good matrix decoder, and that also applies to the HDCD version because that process is also noted for its enhancement of the venue's acoustic information. As soon as I have my new surround system all tweaked out I plan to try this album in that manner.

- John Sunier

VIVALDI: The Four Seasons; La tempesta di mare; Il piacere - Massimo Quarta, violin/Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian, cond./Yuko Tanaka, harpsichord continuo - Delos multichannel SACD 3280:

Another Four Seasons in Hi-Res; we just had one from Naxos in DVD-Audio. It's a rather standard interpretation though compared to the more rough-hewn and exciting versions from such ensembles as Il Guardino Armonico. An overplayed chestnut such as this one seems to need a fresh approach to maintain interest. The two filler concertos are also familiar Vivaldi, but not as familiar. The surround information is strictly ambient; the string tone is superb without so much as a hint of the digititus afflicting so many standard CDs of music for strings.

- John Sunier

MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" - Heidi Grant Murphy, sop./Petra Lang, mezzo/Dallas Sym. Orch./Dallas Sym. Chorus/Andrew Litton - Delos stereo SACD DE 3237 (2 CDs):

I should say I was a bit surprised to see this was only two channel stereo rather than multichannel. It seems to me that any Mahler symphony would be a natural for surround sound - I recall with pleasure the quadraphonic open reels tapes of the Utah Symphony's Mahler's Third Symphony - one of the few worthwhile documents of the quad era. (This and some of the others from that source should be available soon on multichannel SACD.) Perhaps the exigencies of getting the proper multichannel DSD editing gear dictated that the multichannel masters of this live recording could only be issued in a stereo version at this time.

I had received and reviewed the standard CD version of this album some time ago and by now I suppose I don't need to emphasize that it is surpassed sonically in every dimension by this SACD release. Probably the most easily-appreciated of the longer Mahler symphonies, this one is full of heaven-soaring song and sentiment that is beautifully transmitted by this transparent medium. I'm only waiting for Sony's SACD reissue of Bernstein's early version to see if it can push Litton's excellent traversal from my favorite-Mahler-Second position.

- John Sunier

STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 - The Cleveland Orchestra/Lorin Maazel - Telarc stereo SACD-60563:

One of the early Telarc successes, this and others were recorded using the original Soundstream digital recording system, which employed a 50 kHz sampling rate. Downsampling to 44.1 wasn't perfect with the technology of that time, and now with the 2.8 million sampling rate of DSD, no downsampling at all needs to foul up the transfer to SACD. Just as we are now hearing new details and subtlety in the best historic analog recordings when remastered to SACD, this disc allows us to hear more of the quite excellent Soundstream sonics than ever before. Maazel's Fourth is straightforward and energized to the fullest, but his Rite really hits you in the gut via SACD. None of that dry, thin, ascetic approach favored by the composer himself in his own version on Sony Classical (also on SACD now and actually not quite a dry sounding as it was at 44.1 or on LP). That Sacrificial Dance really makes your subwoofer(s) dance should you have them.

- John Sunier

Sacred Feast - Gaudeamus - Directed by Paul Halley - DMP multichannel SACD -09:

This is one of the best-selling SACDs currently. It captures the 13 examples of a cappella early polyphony here with a transparency and realism seldom heard before on choral recordings. I, like many listeners, have to make a special effort to get into early polyphony, but the impact of such excellent singing plus the superbly realistic reproduction pulls my interest in a bit longer and it is rewarded fully. Another aspect of this SACD is that it was actually recorded with an overhead mike picking up the periphonic information. This is fed to channel 6 instead of the subwoofer LFE information. When I heard a demo of Gaudeamus using a Theil overhead speaker feed it produced an uncanny feeling of the entire acoustic interior of the Trinity College Chapel where this was recorded. I plan to set up my 7.3 channel surround system with two side/height speakers to which I will feed this sixth channel to emulate the amazing 360-degree soundfield I experienced at the demonstration. (It can still be played back successfully with the standard 5.1 setup - without going to the trouble of changing any connections.)

- John Sunier

My Fair Lady - Original Soundtrack Recording - Audrey Hepburn (voice of Marni Nixon); Rex Harrison, Stanley Holloway - Music supervised and conducted by Andre Previn - Sony Classical stereo SACD SS 89639:

One of the best Hollywood musicals ever, and one of the top selling LPs after its release back in l964, this seemed a natural for reissue in the new SACD format. As expected, the fidelity is not exactly audiophile-level, coming from a Hollywood soundstage, and especially of that vintage. However, there is no denying that the voices (can't really say singers since Harrison hardly sings at all) come across with an impact and you-are thereness missing in the previous LP, cassette and CD versions. In addition to all the usual hits such as The Rain in Spain, I could Have Danced All Night, I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, and Get Me to the Church on Time, there are three bonus tracks not included on the original. They are The Embassy Waltz, End Titles and Exit Music. Having seen and heard the extras on the DVD reissue of this movie, I was only sorry we couldn't have the perfectly fine original vocals by Audrey Hepburn herself instead of her replacement ghost voice.

- John Sunier

DVORAK: Symphony Nol. 8 in G Major; Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From The New World" - The Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell - Sony Classical stereo SACD SS 89413:

Two superb l958 early stereo tapings made in Cleveland's Severance Hall by the stern task-master Szell, who squeezed the maximum out of his musicians and delivered some of the greatest recordings of standard repertory in the huge Sony vaults. We've never heard them before with the clarity and impact imparted by the SACD medium. Just as with the Bruno Walter Los Angeles recordings so far issued on SACD, we are hearing a whole new dimension that failed to come across before and made these recordings sound rough, muddy, distant and even sloppy on occasion. Now we hear with what skill the Columbia and Epic engineers of the time captured these magnificent performances for posterity. If you want a New World in the New Format, this is the one to get.

- John Sunier

VIVINO BROTHERS Blues Band - DMP Multichannel SACD-11:

I reviewed the standard CD version of this album back last November. Pardon me if I simply amend those comments for this review:

Sorry, man, but I just can't get into the raw-boned country blues of just voice and guitar or voice, guitar & bass. Give me a more urban and larger ensemble such as this sextet, and if it can be mostly instrumental, even better. The brothers (Jimmy on guitar, piano & vocals; Jerry on sax, flute, clarinet & vocals) only sing on three of the tracks and that's good by me. The ensemble also features a B3 on some tracks (Brian Charette), and that's even better too. While there's some tunes by such as Van Morrison and Curtis Mayfield, most of the 11 tracks are originals and there's more variety than most blues sessions. Plus the DMP sonics are superb - though I look forward to the SACD version soon!

Waall, here it is and it's way mo' betta! Great in stereo and absolutely fantastic in multichannel! It's an instant retro party! Why? Because it's quad - only four channels are used - not center or LFE - and they're not missed, believe me!

- John Henry

Bob Mintzer Big Band - Homage to Count Basie - DMP Multichannel SACD-12:

I also reviewed this one in the past as a Circle Surround CD. While not the actual Basie Band and a smaller aggregation than that, these eight tracks of classics such as April in Paris, One O'Clock Jump, Shiny Stockings and Lil' Darlin' really swing with a similar impact to the one and only Basie, and the sonics are way beyond the original article's recordings. While the CS version was fun and did improve the listener's immersion in the music over the normal stereo playback, the discrete four-channel SACD does it much better and cleaner and without a hint of wandering musicians.

- John Henry

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