DVORAK: Symphony No. 9; SMETANA: The Moldau; LISZT: Les Préludes – Berlin Radio Sym. Orch./ Ferenc Fricsay – DGG Pure Audio stereo-only Blu-ray 479 1082, 72:11 [Distr. by Universal] (11/19/13) ****:
This audio-only Blu-ray disc is more notable for the format than the music, which is a pretty standard, but enjoyable and very well-performed program.
There are so many disc high-resolution disc formats, and we’ve seen DVD-A come and go. SACD is still with us, but it never became a mass market carrier. We’re seeing downloads of high resolution musical files, and an increasing interest in the “Pure Audio” audio-only Blu-ray format.
We get a Blu-ray disc, with no room taken on it for video other than a still of the album cover and some rudimentary navigation. What we do get is an excellent remastering of a 1960 performance in 3 stereo formats, all 24/96 resolution; PCM, DTS HD, and Dolby Digital True HD. The advantage of this Pure Audio Blu-ray format is that many people have a Blu-ray player and need no other special components to listen, as only a few Blu-ray players support SACD or DVD-A.
The performance is quite good, with Ferenc Fricsay and The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Fricsay is what I’d call an old-school conductor. He studied under Bartók and Kodály. He preferred to conduct without a baton, and was known for the clarity of his interpretations, which is certainly what we hear in these familiar works. Fricsay died in 1963 at age 48. When this performance was recorded he was a year away from his last performance in London playing the Beethoven Symphony No. 7.
On this disc we get the Dvorak Symphony No. 9, the well known ‘New World’ Symphony, along with Smetana’s Die Moldau, and Les Preludes, by Liszt. The performances are uniformly excellent, and I would single out Die Moldau for it’s energetic and thrilling dynamics. The recorded sound is well defined with excellent imaging in this two-channel recording. It sounds like it was recorded yesterday, which is a testament to the loving care of the DGG engineer who was responsible for the remastering.
Even with my ear up against my ribbon tweeters I could hear no trace of tape hiss, yet the high frequencies of the strings and brass sounded undiminished. I also listened to the disc using Dolby Pro Logic II music mode to generate sounds for surround speakers, but I preferred the stereo as it was recorded.
I applaud DGG for mining its back catalog of recordings and bringing them to this high-quality format. I dare say Fricsay and the Berliners have never sounded better. The disc comes with a coupon so you can download the digital files for use in your home music system, or an a portable music device.