Hi-Res Reviews - December 2002, Pt. 1 of 3 - Classical

click on any cover to go directly to its review

Cantate Hodie: Sing Forth This Day - Bach Choir of Pittsburgh/ Pittsburgh Symphony Brass/Brady R. Allred, Artistic Director and Conductor - Clarion CLR 903 - Hybrid Multichannel SACD:

This disc is an absolute delight to listen to and it comes just in time for the Holiday season. I once read in a Stereophile "Desert Island Disc" article where one of the reviewers often made new purchase decisions based solely on the album cover art. Great art always translated into great music, at least in his experience, and in this case I'll have to agree with him. I love the cover of this SACD, and I love the music.

The disc starts with Cantate Hodie, which is a medley of traditional Christmas carols, and then continues with a mix of carols both traditional and newly composed. There are four world premieres on the program, all well performed and effectively conveying the spirit of the season. Of note is a quite interesting musicalogical journey through the Twelve Days of Christmas, with each day performed in a musical style from different parts of the world (the eighth day is performed in a hilarious Wagnerian style). The program wraps up with a rousing performance of Jingle Bells.

The multichannel SACD does a great job of conveying the space of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA., with the surrounds used primarily to convey ambience and hall information. On track 8, The Dream Isaiah Saw, the percussion and brass at the end of the piece have impressive weight and dynamic impact. The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh does an impressive job, with flawless singing throughout. My highest recommendation and congratulations to Clarion -- this disc will really help get you in the holiday spirit, and in wonderful hi-res sound to boot!

-- Tom Gibbs

SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D Major; TUBIN: Symphony No. 5 in B Minor - Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Jarvi, Conductor - Telarc SACD 60585 - Hybrid Multichannel SACD:

I welcome each new release of classical music on multichannel SACD; most CDs, however musically satisfying, just have a two-dimensionality about them that never quite immerses you in the music. Telarc has made great strides in offering the music on SACD without getting too gimmicky in the surrounds. The familiar Sibelius 2 is glorious in its presentation here; the slow second movement offers an incredible range of dynamic transients -- the brass and percussion are awesome and powerful! The climax of the third movement as it seamlessly flows into the majestic fourth movement is breathtaking.

The less familiar, but no less musically satisfying Symphony No. 5 of Eduard Tubin is another study in dynamic contrasts. The opening movement has a military-like pulse to the music that is not unlike many a symphonic movement from Shostakovich or CarlNielsen, and the percussive nature of the music near the end of the first and third movements will test the limits of your system.
Telarc gives us a good sense of the recorded venue here -- toggle between the stereo and multichannel layers and you'll see what I mean. The stereo layer is really good, but switch to multichannel and your instantly immersed in the music. Vice-versa, and the soundstage depth collapses.  Purchase Here

-- Tom Gibbs

Tapestry: Song of Songs: Come Into My Garden - Telarc SACD 60486 - Hybrid Multichannel SACD:

While I must commend Telarc for offering an ever-broadening selection of repertory, I must admit that this was one disc that I could only take in limited doses. The album is described as "Sensual and Spiritual Settings of the Biblical Text." It's not that I don't love vocal and choral music -- I do -- but the alternating drone and wail that comprised most of the selections was just a little too much for me to take.
If this is your cup of tea, the recording can't be faulted, and its sound is typical of Telarc's multichannel SACD offerings. The surrounds have the occasional instrument coming from them, but mostly provide ambience to the experience. [Ed: The surround channels on this disc were recorded with a Neumann binaural dummy head and plugging headphones into just those tracks will give you an astonishing binaural pickup of the vocal ensemble.]  Purchase Here

-- Tom Gibbs

LAGQ Latin - Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (John Dearman, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant, Andrew York - Telarc multichannel SACD-60593:

The LA ensemble has been together over 20 years now and recorded a dozen albums. For their first multichannel effort Telarc has elected to basically place each guitarist in a quad layout around the listener - one to a speaker - as the German Tacet label has done with string quartets and other chamber ensembles. Somehow with guitars this seems even less bizarre than with strings. One is made a part of the musical event and the ingenious arrangements of standards this quartet is known for stand out in bold relief due to the spatial separation. There are some guest performers on the album: percussionist Tim Timmermans on the opening Fragile and flutist James Walker on Syzygy - the latter by group member York. One of the most compelling works is Cuban Landscape with Rain by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer - actually it sounds more like hail than rain. The penultimate item here is an extremely clever and fresh-sounding arrangement by another group member of six melodies from Bizet’s Carmen, and the closer is another version of the second movement of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Now let’s have a saxophone quartet recorded in surround this same way!  Purchase Here

- John Sunier

VERDI: Otello: "Vanne. . .Credo in un Dio crudel"; Rigoletto: "Pari siamo"; "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata"; Stifefelio: "Ei fugge!. . .Lina, pensai che un angelo. . .Oh gioia inesprimibile"; Nabucco: "Son pur queste mie membra? . . .Dio di Giuda!" Un Ballo in maschera: "Alla vita che t'arride; Alzati!" Ernani: "Gran' Dio! . . .Oh de' verd'anni miei"; I macnadieri: "Vecchio! Spiccai. . .La sua lampada vitale. . .Tremate, o miseri!" "Sogno di Francesco: Tradimento! . . .Pareami, che sorto da lauto convito"; Il Trovatore: "Tutto e deserto. . .Il balen del suo sorriso. . .Per me ora fatale"

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, bass-baritone
With Alexander Vinogradov, bass; Vsevolod Grivnov, tenor Spiritual Revival Choir of Russia/Lev Kontorovich, leader
Philharmonia of Russia/Mario Bernardi

Delos DS 3292 Multichannel SACD:

This showcase for bass Dmitry Hvorostovsky runs the gamut of the Verdi operas after his third opus, Nabucco, and so traces something like his development as a dramatist and fashioner of lyrical-spinto arias. There does tend to be a stentorian sameness to some of these pieces, though Hvorostovsky gets a chance to display some demonic characterization in I masnadieri as Francesco Moor. As the downcast King Nebuchadnezzar in Nabucco, Hvorostovsky can plangently project woeful pathos and sensitivity, and his upper register has a high gloss. The Russian baritone's capacity for extended cantilena shines in Carlo's aria from Ernani, with cello obbligato, that unfolds in thrilling exhortation to abandon passing honors in the quest for a glorious reputation.

I am not partial to Stiffelio, whose merits seem rather forced, a poor adumbration of the Rigoletto plot of a father's wishing to avenge a seduced daughter. But Hvorostovsky manages to convince me that the pistol he wields will allay his paternal disillusionment. I like Hvorostovsky's Iago: it has a menace and ill-will we hear in the more famous interpretations by Warren and Bastianini. He blanches his voice in his remark "Death is oblivion" to make the insight quite chilling. Given the SACD surround-sound effect, we are transported to our own private concert hall, where these assembled Russian forces make a fierce impact. While the majority of the program is long familiar, the rarer arias, energy of voice and clarity of reproduction make the whole a worthwhile acquisition - even if you don’t yet have a SACD player (it’s a hybrid disc). Purchase Here

--Gary Lemco

The Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble - Across the Bridge of Hope - Opus 3 multichannel SACD CD 22012:

The choir consists of 16 singers and is based in Sweden’s far north. They have recorded previously for Opus 3 and this disc features all Swedish composers for chorus, primarily of a liturgical nature. A sonic spice added to the basic choral sound is the addition of instruments in some of the selections, including a Swedish keyed folk fiddle (similar to a hurdy-gurdy) and percussion. In the midst of the choral program is a track titled Bagatelle, which is an instrumental improvisation between a marimba, vibes and the ample acoustics of the church in which the recording was made. It does a fairly good job of recreating those acoustics - the sort that have been this label’s stock-in-trade from the start - without using additional optional height channels. “Yoik to the Mountain” reads as though it’s Yiddish, and sounds something like African call-and-response chants. Actually it is an improvised chant of the Nordic Sami culture of Lappland. A couple of the 16 tracks feature a boy soprano, but sound nothing like the British variety of “white voices.” Opus 3 uses only four of the channels in its recent multichannel recordings, feeling the LFE channel is strictly for movies and the center channel causes more problems than its solves. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

ASTOR PIAZZOLLA: Histoire du Tango, Libertango, Etudes 1 thru 6 - Atis Bankas, violin & Simon Wynberg, guitar - Fidelis Records stereo SACD FR002:

This is one of the first SACD releases from the Fidelis label. It would be difficult to go wrong with the stirring music of Piazzolla. Libertango is probably his most famous tango, and the History of Tango suite has been performed in many different incarnations by various groups. The four sections are titled Bordello 1900, Cafe 1930, Nightclub 1960, and Concert of Today. The six etudes for violin solo are less often heard and show a bit more classical side of the composer who while studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris was urged by her to stop trying to fit into the accepted European classical music mold and instead to develop his Argentine cultural roots. The violin tone, the playing and highly detailed recording quality are all of utmost quality, but one is left wishing for just a little taste of bandoneon, string bass, piano or something to leaven the rather bare chamber-music approach to the excitement of Piazzolla’s world.

- John Sunier

Telarc SACD Sampler I - Various - Telarc multichannel SACD SACD-60006:

Telarc has been a leader in the multichannel employment of DSD and the release of multichannel discs originating both from DSD and analog masters. This is a well-chosen sampling of 15 tracks from their fairly recent efforts, including pop, jazz and classical and everything from vocalists with small group backing to full symphony orchestra plus chorus. The liner notes have all the details on every track, and there is also a warning that in order to preserve the utmost fidelity on all the selections it was decided not to equalize the playback levels, so some level adjustment is required on listening - but it’s not a huge imbalance.

The performers include Spyro Gyra, Erich Kunzel, Kevin Mahogany, Junior Wells, Monty Alexander, organist Michael Murray, Atlanta Symphony, Michael Camilo and Oscar Peterson with Michel Legrand. The liner notes refer to Telarc’s sometime use of the LFE channel for side/height information; however I found little signal in that channel and when I did it was low frequency material as one would expect in the LFE channel. Certainly the effect was nothing like the spectacular Telarc 1812 Overture’s use of the side/height channels. Perhaps Telarc should cue those of us who go to the trouble to set up these additional speaker(s) by putting an “H” next to those tracks with a height channel. (Chesky uses both the center and LFE channels for this purpose.) Purchase Here

- John Sunier

DUPRE - FRANCK - WIDOR - Michael Murray at the organ of St. Sulpice, Paris - Telarc multichannel SACD-60516:

A wonderfully appropriate musical subject for surround, the pipe organ depends for its effect on the reverberation of a large space such as a cathedral and previously the only recordings that came even close to the impression of a real organ in a cathedral were binaural headphone efforts. It seems that the added vertical feed often used by Telarc (adapting the unused LFE channel) would be a great addition in such a voluminous arched space as the famous St. Sulpice, but the very subtle side/height feed on this channel didn’t seem to add appreciably to the already convincing soundfield on this SACD.

This is the space and the organ on which all of these composers of the French Organ School played and composed. In fact Cesar Franck performed at the original inauguration of the organ - at the time the largest in the world - in the 19th century. Murray has featured many works from this symphonic organ literature in his 29 albums for the label, and is a master at the genre. There must have been a number of edits to allow for setting all the complex registration changes between sections, such as the seven portions of Franck’s Grande Piece Symphonique included here. Of the half dozen short Dupre works here, the lovely Cortege and Litany may be the most familiar to church-goers for its frequent use as going-in and going-out music. The program is concluded with the spectacular Sixth Symphony Finale from the composer who literally pulled out just about all the stops in his symphonic-inspired organ works - Charles-Marie Widor. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

**** Multichannel fan Brian Moura has created a special non-commercial web site just for other enthusiasts of multichannel Super Audio Discs. If you would like to know exactly what is available in this format both in the U.S. and elsewhere, and what is coming soon, his main page will tell you where you want to go to (scroll down a bit) - with lists for:

Multichannel SACD Albums Now Available
Multichannel SACD Albums - New Releases
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Europe
Multichannel SACD Albums - Now Available - Only in Japan
Multichannel SACD Albums Coming Soon

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