“Pictures & Reflections” = RAVEL: Miroirs Suite; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Markus Schirmer, piano – Tacet Real Surround Sound

by | Mar 29, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

“Pictures & Reflections” = RAVEL: Miroirs Suite; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Markus Schirmer, piano – Tacet Real Surround Sound with Moving Real Surround Sound – DVD-Audio D132 , 100 minutes, ****:

Tacet is known for their highly individual approach to classical discs, but this one ups the stakes even further. First the pairing on a disc of the original piano version of Mussorgky’s 11 pictures with Ravel’s five “pictures” is I believe a first, and very creative programming. Second, it’s a DVD-A and we seem to seeing many fewer of that format lately. Next, pianist Schirmer is a most exciting performer who has appeared around the world and made many recordings.  And he plays one of the concert grand brands which have been showing up on recent recordings as alternatives to the previously standard Steinway – a richly-toned Fazioli. And it is positioned in Listhalle in Graz, Austria – a hall of fabulous acoustics for this purpose. Schirmer has been complemented by reviewers on his humorous and inventive nature.  Perhaps that is why he agreed to the very unusual Tacet recording approach on their multichannel recordings – spreading the various instruments around the listener, often one instrument to a channel.

But you say we’re only talking one grand piano here, right?  Well, there’s the rub: Recording engineer Andreas Spreer has placed the listener INSIDE the piano by directing the lowest notes to the left rear surround, the highest to the right rear surround and the middle frequencies across the frontal three speakers. Such a proposal would send most concert pianists running, but Schirmer already recorded a disc of early Beethoven piano sonatas for Tacet this way, so he’s not fazed (altho he’s playing a Fazioli). I’ve been one of the few reviewers finding this sonic experimentation refreshing and enjoyable. In this case one can really get into Mussorgsky’s colorful collection of tone paintings. The final two sections – Baba Yaga and The Great Gate of Kiev are absolutely exhilarating in this Real Surround Sound approach; never mind that it’s really Unreal. Schirmer’s carefully-crafted performance, as well as the unusual surround sound, bring out details in the piece of which I was never before aware. And I do believe that if this had been recorded on a Steinway instead of the Fazioli I might have had to throw a blanket over my right rear surround speaker to reduce the filling-loosening brittle high notes. I enjoyed equally the impressionistic Ravel suite which also seemed ideal for this spread-out approach to the piano sound.  I could imagine being on a hill above the Valley of the Bells hearing their mournful pealing in the distance.

But now we come to the last and most controversial thing that sets this disc apart: what Tacet calls MOVING Real Surround Sound.  Engineer Spreer has done this in previous releases, and always as an optional extra, so if you can’t stand it you can skip it. For example, the entire stereo and nonmoving 5.1 mixes of the Mussorgsky are on tracks 6 thru 21; then tracks 22 thru 37 comprise a repeat of the entire work in Moving Real Surround Sound. Due to the longer length required for repeating some of the music in the different mix all of these discs have been DVD-A rather than SACDs. (Tacet has both formats.)

Earlier Moving Real Surround efforts have often used the gimmick rather sparingly: having the clarinet in Peter and the Wolf fly around the listener since the instrument represents the duck, etc.  This time around things get a bit more freaky: Not only are the piano sounds spun around the room, sometimes even on a note-by-note basis, but other manipulation such as reverberation, phasing and even the deliberate addition of wow and flutter are used.  Sorry, I felt this was now going too far, but some may like it.

– John Sunier

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