Several of the classical labels have been issuing a new CD version of an album and then a couple weeks or months later the enhanced SACD version. I haven’t looked forward to the hi-res release quite as much as with this Naxos disc. I even mentioned in my original review – which you should read first – that this must be on the list for future SACD release (I hadn’t been informed yet that it was). I already gave it five stars in the standard CD version since the sonics were so spectacular, but if I hadn’t already selected a Multichannel Disc of the Month, this one would also be it in its SACD iteration.
It didn’t win a Grammy Wednesday night but it should have. The engineer was Phil Rowlands – keep that name in mind. I don’t know the finer points or aspects of Stokowski’s arrangements which José Serebrier retained in these recordings and what he modified or eliminated as being musically gauche or corny. I just know they have a cumulative effect in raising the excitement level of these classics. There have been a number of transcriptions of The Great Gate of Kiev finale of Pictures – including as part of the entire Pictures played by the amazing guitarist Yamaguchi. In fact just a few weeks ago the pianist and organist in our church did a smashing duo transcription of the Great Gate as the Postlude! Well, the Mussorgsky-Stokowski-Serebrier version bests them all! The added bells in the orchestral onslaught are especially nice.
It takes some effort to surpass the excellent sound on the CD level, but the increased transparency, impact, and sense of being in the auditorium with the orchestra on the multichannel SACD are unmatched. Hearing the entire disc again made me realize the primary item of interest for me is not the Pictures but the rarely-heard Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godunov. It’s in the vein of those “Opera Without Words” collections, but so much more integrated and reworked into an effective symphonic composition. Made me want to get out my video DVD of the complete Boris, which I have never watched beginning to end, and perhaps I won’t fall asleep on it this time… Don’t miss this super-audiophile masterpiece – whether you are SACD-capable or not!
– John Sunier