Balalaika Favorites – Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra – Mercury Living Presence

by | Jul 1, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Balalaika Favorites – Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra
(titles below) – Mercury Living Presence 3-Channel SACD 475 6610, 49:30

First, I was surprised to find that this new hi-res reissue of the
original Mercury album has exactly the same 14 tracks as the original
and the Classic Records vinyl reissue – totaling 49 minutes! 
That’s nothing special on a SACD or CD but it certainly was on a
high-level audiophile LP back in 1963 when the disc came out. 
Plus Mercury tended to master their LP grooves at a very high
level.  Perhaps they squeezed on a bit more by going closer to the
center label than did other labels. In fact one side of the Classic
reissue I have gets equally close to the label – so much so that when I
had an automatic arm lift it would lift before the disc was ended.

This was part of the famous On Location recordings in which Mercury
Records took their entire recording van and equipment to Moscow and
made the first recordings in the Soviet Union for an American musical
and technical staff.  They used 35mm magnetic film for this
recording session, with its much wider tracks and better
signal-to-noise specs. Piano concertos and solo works featuring Byron
Janis got the most attention, but this particular album featuring the
large Russian folk orchestra was great fun then and still is.  The
orchestra is heavy on various plucked stringed instruments, giving a
unique ensemble sound.  They include varieties of the Russian
mandolin, the domra. The balalaika is the familiar Russian folk
instrument and also comes in many sizes, with the contrabass models
being huge triangular-shaped instruments. Other instruments include the
Shepherd’s Horns and an ancient twangy one or two-stringed instrument
called the Goosli.

Obviously a comparison of the SACD and the Classic vinyl reissue would
be in order.  I was impressed by how very similar they were. 
The general timbre was almost identical.  The main
difference  was that the LP produced a sort of semi-U-shaped
soundstage whereas the three-channel SACD laid out the orchestra
straight across the front with the occasional solo instrument front and
center with amazing presence.  The two-channel SACD matched more
closely with the vinyl, as expected.  Adding ProLogic II
processing to the vinyl created a very nice surround field but my
preamp doesn’t allow adding this to the multichannel SACD
playback.  In general the SACD – both two and three-channel
options – brought the players a bit closer to the listener than did the
vinyl, but not by a huge distance.  The mix of familiar classical
works by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and others with a few tunes known
in the West such as Midnight in Moscow give a good balance with the
unfamiliar but enthusiastically melodic Russian folk tunes.  A
truly delightful album in delightful sonics via any format.

Tracks: Fantasy on Two Folk Songs, At Sunrise, The Linden Tree,
Kamarinskaya, Fantasy on Volga Melodies, In the Moonlight, Midnight in
Moscow, Under the Apple Tree, Dance of the Comedians, The Living Room,
Evening Bells, My Dear Old Friend Please Visit Me, Waltz of the Faun,
Flight of the Bumblebee.

– John Sunier


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