MOZART: Serenade in B flat Major “Gran Partita” KV361; Fantasia in F minor KV608 – Stuttgart Winds – Tacet Real Surround Sound audio-only Blu-ray B 209, 57:18 (2/25/14) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
I had an original 1963 London vinyl of this with the London Wind Soloists directed by Jack Brymer and thought, well, this multichannel Blu-ray is going to easily win out over the LP with its super hi-res sonics and the 13 players of the Stuttgart Winds spaced out in a circle around the listener, but it won’t equal the terrific performance the London musicians gave this important, lengthy (44 minutes) and often almost symphonic wind serenade. Well I was wrong, it also beats them in the performance area. Perhaps it’s also due to the absolutely perfect tonal characteristics of the digital Blu-ray compared to the small amount of flutter and wow existent in almost any turntable. Clarinets are especially known for sounding bad if the speed and pacing are not perfect.
Mozart was an absolute master at achieving gorgeous tone color in his music, and this Serenade for 13 Winds is brilliantly colorful. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, viewed the work as really an opera for 13 instruments. Another conductor, Roger Norrington, worked with most of these performers in the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, where they are also members. They are all superb. The winds are mostly doubled, and the clarinets get to shine. They were fairly new to music and Mozart use of them captivated his listeners at the time. There are plenty of contrasts of large and full sounds with solo and more chamber-music sections, as well as contrasts in dynamics. There are also variations of the slow and the fast and sprightly, such as between the penultimate (and longest) of the seven movements: the Andante, and the closing cheerful Rondo.
There’s also a fine “filler” work on the disc: the later Fantasia in F minor, which has been arranged for wind octet by Dirk Altmann, but which sounds almost like a more serious final movement for the Gran Partita—not as carefree and pleasurable as the major work is.
I’ve discovered that at least on the Oppo deck, it sometimes takes pushing the Play button more than once or twice to start up the audio-only Blu-ray without a screen display. However, once playing you have a terrific lossless audio that is just about as good as multichannel SACD. Tacet has programmed their Blu-rays so that hitting the yellow button on your remote brings up the stereo layer and hitting the red button brings up the 96/24 5.0 layer. (Comparison of the two with labels that offer both, such as 2L, is not necessarily definite because some of us use the analog six-channel outputs for SACD and the Toslink optical output for Blu-rays, which is a different thing. Some also may convert the DSD to PCM or use the HDMI audio return, so these all can affect the sonic comparisons.)
The layout of the players for Tacet’s Real Surround Sound upsets some listeners, but I love it. For this Gran Partita it works perfectly; audio engineer Andreas Spreer has the 13 players in a rough circle with the mice in the middle facing them. The oboes are front left, the clarinets front right, the basset horns on the left and the bassoons on the right. Across the back and behind the double bass are the four French horns, which add an exciting touch in some passages, certainly different from the usual concert situation but great fun all around. And it doesn’t matter if your center channel or surround speakers are not quite the quality of your front left and right speakers. On this disc, as on most classical music SACDs, the .1 channel is not used.