BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis, Op. 123 – Hillevi Martinpelto, soprano/ Elena Zaremba, mezzo-soprano/ Herbert Lippert, tenor/ Ronnie Johansen, bass/ Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno/ Orchestra of the Beethovenhalle Bonn/ Marc Soumstrot, conductor – MD&G DVD-A

by | Nov 25, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis, Op. 123 – Hillevi Martinpelto, soprano/ Elena Zaremba, mezzo-soprano/ Herbert Lippert, tenor/ Ronnie Johansen, bass/ Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno/ Orchestra of the Beethovenhalle Bonn/ Marc Soumstrot, conductor – MD&G multichannel DVD/Audio 937 1128-5, 81:51 ***1/2 [Distr. by Koch]:

This would have been four stars if not for the fact of the DVD-Audio recording medium. Let’s be real here—with SACDs recently relinquished by the majors, and yet seeming to make a bit of a comeback among the smaller and more enlightened companies, why cloud the issue with something that is most likely going to end up dead as a doornail? Is anyone buying DVD-A machines at all? MD&G tries to assuage our fears by actually offering this CD as being playable in Dolby Digital or pure PCM, as long as the units have a standard six-channel analog output (something required for all but the most expensive SACD players). Their vaunted “2+2+2” audio setup is supposedly mimicked in these other modes, but I can’t hear it. I was able to set my playback to multichannel using the analog output, and I got rather thin-sounding Dolby that was not acceptable. The PCM, bringing me back to stereo, was much more vivid even with the loss of the surround. Of course, I could have had the best of both worlds had MD&G given this in Super Audio and quit pretending that there is still a war on worth fighting. [This was an earlier release and all their recent albums have been SACDs…Ed.]

And that is a shame, for this is a reading of Beethoven’s powerful opus that is worthy of an exalted audio format. The Orchestra of the Beethovenhalle Bonn has some mighty fine wind players who make a splendid noise in all the right places, and the celestial sounds of the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno are magnificent. The soloists have me concerned a tad; one does tire of mezzo wobbling, and I cannot say that Elena Zaremba has the most attractive or even fitting voice for this work, but I wouldn’t disqualify it on that account. Nor would I ever make the claim that such sterling recordings of the piece by Bernstein (DGG), Levine (DGG), or Shaw (Telarc) are displaced by this effort—far from it. But if we compare the much older sound on those recordings to this one, they lose, even though I am referring to the PCM stereo tracks. This reading has to be compared to those big-band recordings, and though you won’t get the sweetness of William Preucil’s violin on the Shaw recording, or the ASO’s choral precision, or the glorious explosion that occurs in the Gloria on Bernstein’s record, you will get a new generation of players and singers that are giving us their take on a decisive masterpiece for their time. Would I buy this knowing that I could only hear it in PCM stereo (without a DVD-A player)? That’s a tough one, and I hesitate to answer. Those few people with DVD-A players out there needn’t wait a second. For the rest of the great unwashed, it’s a tougher question, and one that can in no way be laid at the feet of these fabulous performers.

[This is one of many “2+2+2” releases from MD&G on both SACD and DVD-A. They feel that for music in surround the center and subwoofer channels are not important, and instead they use those two channels for left and right height mics/speakers high above the front left and right speakers. The signals are compatible in standard 5.1 playback.  We will shortly be featuring some feature review articles covering the 2+2+2 system and most of the discs using this alternative approach – which works well but takes some effort to set up…Ed.]

— Steven Ritter 
 

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