MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov – Water Lily Acoustics SACD

by | Jun 24, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – Saint Petersburg Philharmonic
Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov – Water Lily Acoustics multichannel SACD
WLA-WS-76-SACD, c. 70 min. ****:

This disc and the other two so far in the series were a dream come true
for Water Lily Acoustics CEO Kavi Alexander, who had been attempting to
record the former Leningrad Symphony for about 25 years. The recording
was made live during a public concert in 2003 in the orchestra’s hall
which is known for its superb acoustics.

The practice of the WLA label has been to record with a purist two-mike
setup and without any EQ, limiting, compression or noise
reduction.  This approach is put to an extreme test when recording
a full symphony orchestra.  Only two mikes in a classic Blumlein configuration
were used, and exact placement was a challenge. Even the surround and
center channels of this 5.0 SACD were derived during mixing from the
ambient (L – R) information of the hall which were preserved in the
Blumlein setup.  In this it appears to be a similar approach to
the 4.0 SACDs which were created from Blumlein two-channel recordings
made earlier for the Opus 3 label.  There is actually a great deal
of signal on the surrounds on the disc (more than on many multi-miked
multichannel discs), giving an excellent portrayal of the great hall.

My first thought after listening a few minutes was to get out my R.S.
level meter and re-adjust the levels of the front speakers, because it
seemed my R front speaker was too prominent in relation to the others.
The brass section seemed over to the extreme right and too loud. Well,
the notes explain that Russian orchestras like to have the brass to the
far right of the stage, and the string basses to the far left. So I was
hearing just what the two mikes had preserved.

The listening experience is completely different from other Mahler
symphony recordings where multiple mikes were obviously used. My
favorite 5.0 SACD series of the Mahler symphonies is the SF Symphony
with Tilson Thomas, but they haven’t issued the Fifth as yet.  On
the strength of the ones that have been auditioned, I would draw the
distinction as being something like the contrast between sitting in the
best seat in the audience about a dozen rows from the stage (Water
Lily) vs. sitting on the podium and having the various soloists stand
up like a swing band when they do their solos (SF Sym.). There is no
artificial highlighting here of different instruments or instrumental
sections. The whole symphony is of a piece, and solidly placed some
distance from the listener across the frontal soundstage. The surrounds
contribute strongly to the feeling of actually being in the hall, as do
the occasional coughs and chair squeaks. I would think this recording
would clearly demonstrate the differences between a so-so surround
system and a perfectly-adjusted super-high-end system – more readily
than the usual multimic recording. I would love to hear it on a
cost-no-object system.

The performance is strong and convincing.  The big Mahlerian
climaxes are not as overpowering as on most commercial recordings, but
then they are also not as compressed and jumbled-sounding as normally
heard.  Everything seems to flow more smoothly and elegantly. I
was reminded of the Sheffield direct discs of Prokofiev and Wagner,
except that those were made in a far-too-dry movie studio and the
natural acoustics of the St. Petersburg hall are just “wet” enough.
This is a commendable achievement in the multichannel presentation of a
symphony orchestra.

– John Sunier

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01