MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 – Norma Procter, contralto/Ambrosian Singers/Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir/ London Sym. Orch./ Jascha Horenstein MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 – Royal Concertgebouw/ Orch., Amersterdam/ Bernard Haitink – – both HDTT 96/24 DVD-Rs

by | Feb 7, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 – Norma Procter, contralto/Ambrosian Singers/Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Jascha Horenstein (1970) – HDTT 96K/24bit DVD-R (also available as Gold CD-R, HQCD CD, and both 96K/24 & 192K/24 FLAC downloads online). HDCD189  *****:

MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amersterdam/ Bernard Haitink (rec. live) (1983) HDTT 96K/24bit DVD-R HDDVD190, 1:18:06 [www.highdeftapetransfers.com] *****:

Horenstein was originally an assistant to Furtwangler but was removed from his later post as Music Director of the Dusseldorf Opera in 1993 by the Nazi because he was a Jew. After the war he was especially active in Britain, where he recorded this Mahler Third – probably one of the top early audiophile vinyl recordings of this work which has been in demand ever since.

I have the original Unicorn two-LP set, cleaned on my VPI disc washer and treated with LAST and Groove Glide. HDTT’s reissue is mastered from the commercial quarter-track prerecorded Unicorn tape, which I wasn’t aware even existed. I did the full vinyl ritual in playback: record brush, zapper, Stylast on a cleaned stylus on my SOTA vacuum table.  I did a close comparison of the two sources, and found an almost exact match of their sonics, except for the fact that the HDTT DVD version has no surface noise during quite passages and no rumble.  In addition, nearly all A/B comparisons I have made of hi-res optical discs and the vinyl versions of the same have given at least a slight edge to the vinyl in the quality of “air” about the individual instruments.  This time, however, both the DVD-R and the vinyl original had similar qualities of “air!” Plus you don’t need to get up four times to flip the LP sides, and there is no compromising of fidelity as the stylus approaches the label.

I was recently very impressed with one of the HDTT HQCDs, which I didn’t have on either of these Mahler symphonies, and I think the 192K downloads are overkill (they require so much memory most don’t fit on DVDs), but it seems to me that 96K/24bit is the way to go on audiophile reissues of both vinyl and prerecorded tapes, since it preserves their higher frequencies that are lost with standard 44.1/16bit CDs. And they are playable on any DVD player that is set up for passing 96K signals and not downsampling them to 48K.

Now just because the transfer is so hi-res doesn’t mean the age of both of these Mahler reissues isn’t in evidence – there is some stridency in the loudest passages and the higher strings that competing SACD versions, for example, don’t suffer from.  The San Francisco Symphony SACDs of both of these Mahler symphonies are free of the stridency and of course have an enveloping surround field.  However, the two-channel DVD-R transfers are so clean and crisp that they preserve much ambience and decode very well via ProLogic II for a pseudo-surround effect.  In fact the process lessens a bit of the stridency at the same time.

The Mahler Seventh comes not from a commercial recording but from someone connected with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Made in 1983, it is of excellent fidelity but also suffers somewhat from the stridency problem. Possessed of the two mysterious “Night Music” movements with the devilish scherzo in between, plus a gangbusters rousing conclusion in the key of C, the Seventh has been my personal favorite Mahler symphony for some years. The Dutch audience is very quiet in spite of this being an exciting live recording.  My comments on the sonic aspects of this DVD-R would be the same as those above on the Mahler Third, except that I didn’t have an original LP or tape to compare.

I thank HDTT for returning to the standard CD jewel box for their DVD-R reissues – a much better choice than the oversize DVD Video boxes they utilized before. If either of these two Mahler reissue catch your fancy, you may want to explore the other three classic Mahler reissues HDTT provides: Horenstein again conducting the London Symphony in the Symphony No. 1, a smashing Hermann Scherchen performance with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra of No. 2 (which we already reviewed), and George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Symphony No. 4.  All of these are available in either the 96K DVD-R or the HQCD versions.

– John Sunier

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