Pentatone: The First Ten Years – 10 complete SACDs + sampler

by | Nov 2, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Pentatone: The First Ten Years [TrackList below] – Pentatone multichannel SACD 5148 500 (11 Discs), 11:37:05 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This is a celebration box issued by Pentatone in honor of its 10th-year anniversary. The compilers have taken “representative”—not necessarily the “best” or “award-winning” discs—from each year beginning in 2002, one per year up until 2011. For those who are not aware, the label was formed by former employees of Philips Classics, Dirk van Dijk, Job Maarse, and Giel Bessels, when Universal Classics decided to fold Philips into its Decca label. All three had many years in the industry, and all were committed to a high-end sound product, notably SACD, though at the time of their first release the advent of DVD-Audio was causing a lot of customer confusion and a bit of a format war. SACD essentially won that battle but it remains to be seen whether it can survive the war, a point made in the booklet notes that talk about the Pentatone commitment to surround sound, but unsure as to whether SACD will be able to compete with Blu-ray audio, downloading, or streaming in surround. One might add who knows what else at this stage in the game, as the technology seems to be changing so fast. But for now SACD is the thing, and the label’s 130-plus recordings, along with over 80 quadraphonic Philips recordings, many of which were never issued in that format as all of them were also standard stereo, testify to the audiophile quality of the releases.
My first inclination was to give a detailed review on each disc in this set, but when I realized that all but three discs have already been covered on this site I decided to speak only of those issues. As regards the rest, suffice it to say that none of those seven discs received less than four stars by our reviewers, and several garnered five.
Two of the ones left are early—2002 and 2003. Though there is a terrific recoding of the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings by Stokowski from the Philips catalog offered in quad by Pentatone, this early recording, along with the Souvenir de Florence featuring the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra conducted by Marco Boni is a fairly solid performance. It won’t compete with Ormandy, Karajan, or my favorite, a sterling and gorgeous-sounding reading on RCA by Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists, but it is decent if you have a need for the disc mate, an even better played Souvenir.
The Dvorak New World is probably the most disappointing reading in the set. Yakov Kreizberg pushes and pulls the thing all over the place with little sense of direction or consistency, even though his Netherlanders perform fairly well. I say “fairly” because it is a live recording that lacks the last degree of tonal opulence in some spots. The coupling, Tchaikovsky’s sturdy Romeo and Juliet, is given a fair if nominal performance.
The last disc is also the newest, released this year, Bruckner’s popular Seventh Symphony. Pentatone already has a very fine performance in the catalog that John Sunier really likes, giving it four stars in 2006. That reading was a concert performance with Vienna Symphony and Yakov Kreizberg recorded in the Musikverein; this one is a studio issue from the Victoria Hall in Geneva. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is not known as a Bruckner orchestra, and though Sunier was quite pleased with the sonics in their performance of the Bruckner Ninth in this same locale and with this same orchestra, the competition for the Seventh is a little stronger, and I find that the orchestral execution is rougher and the edges of this music sharper than what we get here. Janowski gives us the cymbal clashes, and is generally very pointed in his direction, but I miss the lack degree of surge and frustration/elation that is so critical in Bruckner. Nevertheless I will admit that the Suisse orchestra sounds very good, and the surround sound is quite spectacular. It is one of the best sounding Sevenths I have come across, though I think that interpretatively I still prefer Walter, Karajan (EMI), and especially the Decca Chailly with the Berlin Radio Symphony.
So we basically have 9 out of 10 as being worthy recordings, with eight really worthwhile—not bad odds for a set like this. As a bonus we are treated to a short sampling of the Pentatone catalog on a separate disc (the others are not samples), along with a really interesting audio calibration series of tones, and a few surround sound “natural environment” recordings that are interesting as well. May Pentatone continue its support of fine quality sound, giving us superb recordings, and industry-leading technology, for many more years. If you don’t know the company’s recordings, this is an excellent set with which to begin.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade for Strings; Souvenir de Florence; Romeo & Juliet Ov.; DVORAK: New World Sym.; Romance for Violin & Orch.; Russian Violin Concertos; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonatas; SCHMITT: Early Symphonies and Ch. Music; MOZART: Piano Concertos; CHOPIN: The 2 Piano Concertos; SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concerto; GORDON GETTY: Orchestral Music; BRUCKNER: Sym. No. 7; Bonus disc with 70 min. of classical surround sound, plus test tones & effects.
—Steven Ritter

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