Hi-Res Audio Reviews
January 2003 - Part 3 of 3
Classical SACDs -
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More violins, but in solo mode, in our next pairing...
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto; SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 - Hilary Hahn, v./Oslo Philharmonic Orch./Hugh Wolff & Marek Janowski cond. - Sony Classical multichannel SACD-Only SS89921:

Now this is a nicely contrasting set of concerti to be sure. Hahn has lovely tone and phrasing, making the Mendelssohn sound fresher than the potboiler it really is. She also makes a fine case for the massive Shostakovich concerto which I had never learned to like very much. Dedicated to David Oistrakh, it has four movements instead of the normal three. I would have like a bit more silky violin tone, but that’s not to say that this sounds digitally hard in the upper register like most 44.1 CDs of solo violin. It also suffers from the overly-reticent use of the surrounds that most of the Sony Classical multichannel discs seem to have. The surrounds as well as the center channel are almost silent a good part of the time. When isolated out the surrounds seem to carry only a distant reverberation that sounds an awfully lot like it was created artificially - after the fact - from a two-channel stereo original rather than discrete surround. If you turn up these levels quite a bit you get the sort of envelopment that the SACDs from Telarc, Delos and others have. Most DVD-As have lots more going on in the surrounds - just as in the early days of stereo where ping-pong effects sold the goods to the unwashed - that format is going to have the edge which more blatantly shows off its features. Purchase Here

David Galoustov, violin/Julien Gernay, piano = TCHAIKOVSKY: Melodie, Valse-Scherzo, Meditation; WIENIAWSKI: Polonaise de concert, Legende; KREISLER: Caprice viennoise Op. 2; PAGANINI/KREISLER; La campanella; ST.-SAENS/YSAYE: Caprice en forme de valse; YSAYE: Reve d’enfant - Lyrinx stereo SACD LYR 2207:

Is it my imagination or we being inundated by violin-piano encore albums lately? At least the music is the entire focus here; no sexy photos of female violinists to distract. And also no hint of high end digititus in the reproduction of the violin - this is one of the most amazingly real sounding violins I have ever heard. Young Russian violinist Galoustov moved to Paris in l991 to study at the Paris Conservatory and stayed. From the manner in which he polishes off some of the more virtuosic of these tidbits I’d say he is a fiddler to be watched. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Piano to the foreground for the next two SACDs...
SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A; DVORAK: Piano Concerto in G - Paolo Giacometti, piano/The Arhem Philharmonic Orch./Michel Tilkin - Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA17802:

Another potboiler here in the Schumann. While the performance is good it is the ability to hear details in the overly-familiar work that we may not have every noticed before that rescues it from the ordinary. And of course that is due to the see-thru clarity of the DSD reproduction. (For a more fiery treatment in lousy sonics you might want to try Dinu Lipatti’s if you don’t already have it.) The Dvorak is quite tuneful with folk music influences, though not a typical virtuosic show-off piano concerto. The surround field, while rather subtle, puts you in the hall with the performers. Purchase Here

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Seasons (piano pieces arranged for piano trio by Alexander Gedike) - Atis Bankas, violin; Teymour Sadykhov, cello; Galina Zisk, piano - Fidelis stereo SACD FR001CD:

Odd that the performers here are not identified on either the front or rear of the disc jewel box. Would be nice to know just a bit about them; they appear to be Russian expatriots in the Toronto area, but I could be way off base. To me the composer’s dozen little pieces named for the 12 seasons have always seemed a bit of a bore, but with the addition of the violin and cello lines this becomes a charming little suite in which the music often does appear to have some relationship to the month or particular subtitle (Reaper’s Song, The Hunt, etc.). If you have trouble finding Fidelis SACDs online, try

- John Sunier

Here’s a pair of multichannel hi-res winners in the early music area...

Exceptional Masterpieces = MERULA: Ciaconna a 4k, Ballo detto Pollicio; MARINI: Passacalio a 4; SAMMARTINI: Concerto in C for piccolo cello, strings and basso continuo; FUX: Rondeau a 7 in E Major, Sinfonia a 3; BIBER: Partia VII for 2 viola d’amore and basso continuo; ENDLER: Sinfonia No. 15 in F Major - Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend - Bona Nova Early Music multichannel SACD PCCC-10011 SA:

This is a single release by and for the Amsterdam consort for early music and just about the best-planned, played and recorded program of early instrumental music I have heard in years. None of the works are potboilers (no Pachelbel canons here) and all qualify for the overall disc title, though to some it may seem a bit lame. I was unfamiliar with both Merula and Endler, and found their works whetted my interest to hear more. The Consort was founded in l982 and its director Vriend has come across much fine unknown music in his search thru libraries and archives around Europe. Like a number of other modern ensembles specializing in early music, the 23 or so players here display a level of enthusiasm and excitement about what they are doing that a lot of symphony orchestra and studio musicians could take note of. It comes across aurally, especially with the transparent multichannel DSD recording. The group decided against making use of the center channel, so like Opus 3 multichannel SACDs, this is a 4.0 recording as in quad days. It may to soon to find this disc at online outlets; the group’s own website is: www.combattimento

FRANÇOIS COUPERIN: Pieces De Viole I & II; Concerts Royaux 3 & 11 - Mieneke van der Valden, viola de gamba & Pardessus de viole/Glen Wilson, harpsichord - Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA18302:

The viol is a learned pleasure for many listeners, although the successful film on Marin Marais a few years back exposed its special sound to a whole new audience. And Couperin’s two suites of pieces of the viol are a learned pleasure for viol players - Couperin wasn’t a viol player himself and demands difficult technical leaps for the performer that don’t come naturally to the instrument. Ms. Van der Velden believes they are so impressive that the work demanded to play them is well worth it. The Pardessus instrument listed above is the highest-pitched of the viol family (of which today’s standard double-bass is the lowest). It plays a third higher than today’s violin. It is heard as the melody instrument in the 11th Concert. Some of its dance movements will sound very familiar since this is probably the most popular of all the Couperin Royal Concerts. Each of the suites has from five to seven movements except for the shorter second suite which has only four. If after this fine display of viol virtuosity you find you still don’t care for the instrument’s particular timbre, at least you’ll know it’s not because rampant digititus made proper reproduction of the sensitive string tone impossible. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

More Mostly Early Music for strings on the next two hi-reses...
VIVALDI: Late Concertos for Violin, Strings, and Basso Continuo - Concertos in B Minor, D Minor, F Major, E-flat Major, B Minor, & E-Flat Major - Giuliano Carmignola, baroque violin/Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon - Sony Classical multichannel SACD-only SS 87733:

Forget worries about whether or not you already have these Vivaldi concertos in your collection, because these are premiere recordings of all of them! It’s like Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas - the musicologists keep turning up more of them on dusty archive shelves. Even if they were the same concertos recorded some years ago, you will probably find the newer approach to this early music considerably more exciting listening. The note booklet goes into some of the reasons for the pallid and bloodless original instrument Vivaldi performances of yore - the early instruments lacked the refinements of modern violins and that created limitations for the players in using some of the bowing and vibration effects they were used to. Now early music exponents have discovered new ways to get back to the expressivity with which performers of the period had played. Groups such as Il Gardino Armonico and these Venice-based musicians are examples of that. Even the usual simple harpsichord continuo has been expanded in these versions to include theorbo, archlute, Baroque guitar and organ - all improvising ornamentation to the basic melody lines. Again, very subtle surround information, but it is here and can be raised in level. Purchase Here

Violincello = VIVALDI: Sonata for Cello and Piano in A Minor; BACH: Prelude from Suite No. 2 for Cello; Gigue from Suite No. 5 for Cello; KODALY: Sonata for Cello Solo Op. 8 - Nata Belkin, cello/Daniel Friedman, piano/Ludovit Kanta (in Kodaly only) - Fidelis Records Stereo SACD FR006:

Good choice to issue so much music for strings - both solo and massed - on SACD, since the 44.1 CD format has usually fallen down and can’t get up when it comes to naturalistic string tone on recordings. The rich and glorious tone of the solo cello is presented front and center in the fine four-movement Vivaldi Sonata. Interesting also to include the two movements from the mighty set of the six Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites just before the Kodaly Sonata which harkens back to Bach in many ways while simultaneously exploring melody leadings that Bach wouldn’t have envisioned in his worst nightmares.

- John Sunier

CARL ORFF: Carmina Burana - Judith Blegen, soprano/Hakan Hagegard, baritone/Wm. Brown, tenor/Atlanta Boy Choir/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Robert Shaw - Telarc stereo SACD SACD-60056:

This is another in the series of early Telarc recordings that used by far the highest-fidelity system of the time - the 50K Soundstream digital recorder developed by Dr. Thomas Stockham. While these sounded very good when transferred to the LPs of their time, most collectors turn up their noses at analog LPs cut from digital masters. Then when CDs were introduced, the Soundstream 50K recordings had to be crudely converted to 44.1K in order to master the CDs, losing considerable fidelity in the process. Now with the million-level sampling rate of DSD, Telarc could for the first time do a proper conversion of the Soundstream originals to SACD, and this is one of them.

All of the Shaw choral-orchestral recordings on Telarc are first rate and this one is no exception. However, the more modern Carmina in multichannel SACD holds more excitement and listener involvement. I’ve also noticed that especially when listening on headphones there is occasionally a sort of wavering or fuzziness in the extreme top end on the SoundStream recordings that I don’t hear from analog or PCM sources. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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