47 SACD & DVD-A Reviews This Month
July-August 2004 – Part 2 of 3 – Classical (beg.)
click on any cover to go directly to its review
****MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH****
GUSTAV MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor “Resurrection” – Latonia Moore, sop./Nadja Michael, mezzo-sop./Vienna Singverein/Vienna Philharmonic/Gilbert Kaplan – DGG SACD (2 discs) 474 594-2:
Kaplan’s l988 disc was a gem but this new version is nothing short of breathtaking. The music seems to flow more smoothly and builds to its various ecstatic climaxes with greater inevitability than before – perhaps due to the many performances he has conducted of the work in the ensuing 16 years. And now we have the higher resolution and enveloping surround field of multichannel SACD reproduction. (MTT and the SF Symphony are going to have a tough time beating this entry when they get around to the Second in their Mahler SACD cycle.) The dynamic range on these discs seems wider than any other classical recording I have heard. One could never listen to this on a car CD deck without compression – which none of the auto players have anymore. Haven’t heard of the two soloists, but they are superb, and the almost holographic sound image of the massed chorus across the soundstage is something to behold – especially in the super-pianissimo passage leading up to the mass reiteration of the Resurrection theme in the finale. This is considered the softest entrance in choral music literature. Simply glorious music given a glorious performance and, finally, appropriate recording presentation. Why any two-channel diehard would still insist that multichannel is a gimmick after comparing the stereo and multichannel options on these discs is a complete mystery to me. Mahler’s Fourth has often been thought the best introduction to the master’s music for Mahler neophytes, but this is such an achievement that I say lay the Second on them!
MICHAEL DENHOFF: The Cello in My Life – Compositions for Cello and Piano – Michael Denhoff, Cello; Birgitta Wollenweber, Piano – Cybele SACD 361.401 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:
The pieces here haven’t totally abandoned conventional form, and the playing is quite melodic throughout; especially noteworthy is the contribution from pianist Birgitta Wollenweber – her playing is nothing short of phenomenal, and the recorded sound of the piano just sparkles. There’s a low-frequency rumble that’s barely perceptible on all of the tracks, but it in no way intruded on my enjoyment of the program. The surround content is pretty much limited to the front channels with some ambience presented by the rears. Switching to the stereo-only tracks did indeed collapse the soundstage slightly.
JUAN ALLENDE-BLIN: The Piano Music – Thomas Gunther, Piano – Cybele SACD 160.401 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD
This collection of piano music served as my introduction to Chilean expatriate Juan Allende-Blin, with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Early on he was taught composition by an uncle (an associate of Debussy), then later by a student of Anton Webern. He relocated to Germany in 1951, where he studied for a while with Olivier Messiaen. The piano works heard here very strongly reflect the influences of Webern and Messiaen, and though it shares much of the dissonance from that period, the music for the most part is melodic throughout. Pianist Thomas Gunther has a long association with Juan Allende-Blin, and he plays this music with mastery and a deep understanding.
Only one piece, the Dialogue for 2 Players (track 6), departs significantly from traditional form, where approximately six minutes into the piece the second player (composer Juan Allende-Blin) appears and begins plucking the strings inside the piano and playing against them with tennis balls. It sounds kind of strange, but it has a really interesting effect on the music, which remains very cerebral throughout.
The recording is excellent, with the piano front and center in the soundstage. The surrounds add needed ambience to give a more 3-dimensional aspect to the performance. At times gripping, at other times downright harrowing, I still found this music to be very listenable and enjoyable for extended sessions – highly recommended.
OSCAR VAN DILLEN: De Stad (The City) – Ensemble Gelber Klang – Cybele SACD 361.301 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:
The straight reading is played by Ensemble Gelber Klang, with a few electronic touches added here and there by the composer. Although basically a traditional chamber ensemble, the occasional use of instruments such as the accordion and marimba help to give this group a sound unlike any other, and that helps to serve the music here well. The sounds we’re hearing are an amalgam of industrial activities, musical traditions, and the vast cultural influences that make up daily life in Rotterdam. I particularly like movement 3, where a quiet underpinning from contrabass and strings begins to give way to staccato bursts of piano, while tympani rumble distantly and ominously. The overall effect is quite chilling and exuberant.
The compressed version, which was specifically composed with surround sound in mind, takes the foundation provided by Ensemble Gelber Klang and adds every conceivable electronic effect – voices, sounds of waves crashing, machinery, clocks ticking – coming at you from every channel of your system, and the effect is quite startling, but nonetheless enjoyable. At times, it’s almost reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon!
Technically, the disc is superb. All my listening was done in surround sound, and this disc, played back in a well set-up multichannel system, is a surround tour-de-force. Very highly recommended.
The Not So Well-Tempered Klavier – New Compositions for Toy Piano – Bernd Wiesemann, Toy Piano – Cybele SACD 160.501 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD:
The bottom line for me here, though, is – just how much toy piano can anyone endure during one sitting? Taken as individual pieces, and listened to judiciously, the various pieces can be quite striking and some very enjoyable – but they make for a really tough listening session when heard back-to-back-to-back. My wife and dog both were about to pull their respective hairs out when I finally pulled the plug on this unusual disc!
Sonically, the disc is surprisingly good, with a lot more body to the sound than one would have expected from a toy piano. Regardless of how good the sound, this is definitely an acquired taste musically – some of the tracks would make for a great throw-in on a mix tape for parties or whatever – but I’d really recommend trying it before buying it. [And if you just can’t get enough of the tinkly sounds, there are several standard CDs of works for toy piano by John Cage and others on the Wergo and New Albion labels…Ed.]
GUNTHER BECKER: Collected Works – Electroacoustic Music – Cybele SACD 960.401 – Stereo Hybrid SACD:
Sound-wise, these seventies-vintage stereo recordings really sound pretty good, but this disc may have been better served by remixing the original stereo tapes into surround. This is another of those acquired taste discs – you either love it, or hate it – so try it before you buy it, if possible.
RACHMANINOFF: Symphony No. 3 in A Minor; Chanson Georgienne – Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel – Vanguard/Silverline Classics DVD-A288242-9:
Fiddle Faddle – 15 Favorites by LEROY ANDERSON – Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel – Vanguard/Silverline Classics DVD-A 288241-9:
HENRI DUTILLEUX: Piano Sonata; 3 Preludes for Piano; BARBER: Sonata Op. 26 – Mika Akiyama, piano – Lyrinx/Talents SACD LYR 2220:
I recall how after the introduction of the stereodisc in 1958 most recordings of solo piano continued to be in mono on the thought that a single instrument didn’t benefit that much from stereophonic reproduction. (Also, recording piano was enough of a challenge without adding the many artifacts peculiar to cutting stereo grooves into vinyl at that time.) But that sort of thinking doesn’t seem to be happening with hi-res multichannel – there have been many solo piano releases in multichannel, and it does improve the realism of the recording. In fact, I have found that my “broken-record” complaints about 40-foot-wide piano sound seem to be less of a problem with multichannel reproduction.
La harpe française – Marielle Nordmann, harp = PIERNE; Impromptu-Caprice; DEBUSSY: Reverie, La fille aux cheveux de lin, Arabesque 1 & 2, Clair de lune, ENESCO: Allegro de concert, FAURE: Une chatelaine en sa tour, Impromptu, ST.-SAENS: The Swan, ROUSSEL: Impromptu, DUPARC: Chanson triste, HASSELMANS: Les follets – Lyrinx SACD LYR 2211:
The first SACDs imported from the Italian Fone label…
This is one of two Piazzolla SACD in the initial release of nine discs from Fone. While there have been a number of Piazzolla SACDs already released, these have a very special connection: Conductor and violinist Accardo was a close friend of the composer, and Piazzolla even dedicated his composition Milonga in D to him. In the interview with Accardo in the note booklet there is discussion of the Italian connection – Piazzolla’s parents were Italian and there is much of Italian music in the mixture that is known as Tango. Piazzolla had a difficult time getting his music accepted by some critics and tango fans because he didn’t design it for dancing but for listening. The disc’s title tune is probably the most gorgeous piece the Argentine composer every wrote – a remembrance of his father. It receives a very lovely ten-minute treatment here with a fine solo by pianist Laura Manzivi. Other Piazzolla classics given the chamber orchestra treatment are Milonga del Angel and Verano Porteno. I don’t recall having heard the disc’s closing Three Pieces for Chamber Orchestra on previous Piazzolla collections. It’s a rich three-movement work: Prelude, Fugue and Divertimento. The transcriptions of the other works are primarily by Francesco Fiore. The page of tech information shows that Fone puts a strong emphasis on audiophile quality. The recordings were made direct to five-channel (no LFE) DSD, using Van den Hul cables and dCS converters.
BRAHMS: Violin-Piano Sonatas Op. 78, 100 & 108; Scherzo in C Major – Salvatore Accardo, violin/Bruno Canino, piano – Fone Stereo SACD 008 SACD:
Violinist Accardo shines in this album of the three Brahms masterpieces for violin and piano. They are all highly lyrical and carry the vocal qualities of the lied throughout. The duo has chosen to emphasize that aspect of the music, bringing out a beautiful singing tone on both instruments that is concisely captured by the stereo DSD recording. The second sonata has a number of references to the composer’s own lieder, and is dominated by a feeling of serene relaxation. The third sonata differs from the others in going to four movements instead of the normal three, and it becomes more exuberant and lively. The violin tone is especially rich and natural – something that can be so painful in many standard CDs.
VIVALDI: The Four Seasons; Sonata in G Minor RV 27; Sonata in A Minor RV 36 – Marco Fornaciari, v./Foné Ensemble – Foné SACD 005 SACD:
Ah yes, yet another Four Seasons. The interpretive bag here is about halfway between the boring carefulness of decades ago and the wild enthusiasm of ensembles such as Il Giardino Armonico. Recording-wise, very rich and enveloping sonics. If you don’t already have a Four Seasons in your SACD collection, you couldn’t go wrong with this one.
PAGANINI: 24 Capricci Op. 1 – Salvatore Accardo, solo violin – Foné SACD 032 (2 SACDs):
This new release is called the first complete recording, though I know I have somewhere in my collection another set of the 24 works on two CDs. It appears Fone bases that statement on the fact that the Capriccios are normally performed without their “retornelli” and for this recording Accardo has performed all of them. Paganini’s name is synonymous with the violin and he is regarded as the inventor of the modern violin. He was such an astounding virtuoso of the instrument that tales abounded of the violinist selling his soul to the devil for his legendary skills. He had a fragile nature, but also was hypersensitive, impetuous and not in the best of health. Paganini created a whole new catalog of stylistic effects never before heard on the violin.
Some of the Capriccios are real finger-busters for performers, while others have showy passages that were obviously designed to wow his audiences but really weren’t that difficult to play. Again, multichannel playback presents the violin in a normal size and in a natural acoustical space, plus without a hint of the digititus frequently ailing standard CD recordings featuring solo violin. However, although I wasn’t able on short notice to put my finger on another version in my collection, I do recall a more silky and pleasant tone than I hear on these SACDs. Their generally rough timbre seems to point up the difficulties of some of Paganini’s tricks, when I would think the idea was to make them seem effortless. I don’t believe I would have retained that other set if the violin tone was as harsh as I hear on these discs. The particular timbre was the same on the 44.1 CD layer, just less detailed. My system is not slanted toward high end hardness, but perhaps on a vacuum tube setup the violin tone would be more acceptable. As it is I found it just short of annoying.
PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 4; Sonata No. 8; RACHMANINOV: Prelude in G Flat Major, Prelude in E Major – Alexeï Nabioulin, piano – Audite SACD 92.513:
HANDEL: Organ Concertos Vol. 4 – Nos. 14, 15 & 16 – Daniel Chorzempa, organ/Concerto Amsterdam/Jaap Schröder – Pentatone 4.0 RQR SACD PTC 5186 110:
The Trumpets That Time Forgot = RHEINBERGER: Suite for two trumpets & organ; RICHARD STRAUSS: 3 Movements from “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme” Suite; ELGAR: Sonata No. 2 Op. 87a – Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, trumpets; John Wallace, trumpets; Colm Carey, pipe organ – Linn SACD CKD 242:
HANDEL: Recorder Sonatas = D Minor HWV 367a, B Flat Major HWV 377, C Major HWV 365, F Major HWV 369, A Minor HWV 362, G Minor HWV 360, Harpsichord Suite in E Major – Pamela Thorby, recorder/Richard Egarr, harpsichord and organ – Linn SACD CKD 223:
From a large sound to small one with this disc. These are the six complete recorder sonatas composed by Handel during his tenure in London. He frequently used the instrument in both his operatic and orchestral works. The oboists in the orchestra were usually called on to play the recorder parts, and it is felt he wrote these sonatas for one of these players – to serve as entertainments during breaks in concerts. Some of the organ concertos reviewed above might also have been heard at the same concerts.The sonatas are full of wonderful melodies and exuberance, and Thorby is one of the leading recorder players today. It is greatly satisfying for anyone who has played the recorder themselves or accompanied recorder players to listen to Thorby’s performances and know that we are never going to be subjected one of those awful sounds that recorders in lesser hands are bound to make! Egarr’s harpsichord solo on the Handel suite is a welcome “entertainment” in the middle of this recital. He went to school with Thorby and they have concertised together, but this is their first recording together.
BOISMORTIER: Suites & Sonatas = Trio Sonata in G Major, Sonata in D Major, Cinquiéme Suite in D Minor, Trio Sonata in E Minor, Suite in A Major, Sonata in E Minor, Diverse Pieces for Viols in C, Gentelesse in G Major – Passacaglia – Linn Stereo SACD CKD 204:
Credo = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 17 “The Tempest,” Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C Minor “Choral Fantasy;” JOHN CORIGLIANO: Fantasia on an Ostinato for Solo Piano; ARVO PÄRT: “Credo” for Piano, Mixed Choir and Orchestra – Hélene Grimaud, piano/Swedish Radio Choir/Swedish Radio Symphony Orch./Esa-Pekka Salonen – DGG SACD 474 869-2:
JACOB TER VELDHUIS: Paradiso Oratorio – Claron McFadden, soprano; Tom Allen, tenor/North Netherlands Concerto Choir/North Netherlands Orchestra/Alexander Liebreich – Chandos SACD CHSA 5012: [See also DVD-V section this month]
– John Sunier