SERGE PROKOFIEFF: Lieutenant Kije Suite; IGOR STRAVINSKY: Song of the Nightingale – Chicago Sym./Fritz Reiner – RCA Victor/Analogue Productions three channel SACD CAPC 2150SA, 42 min. (10/14/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
“The Reiner Sound” = MAURICE RAVEL: Rapsodie Espagnole; Pavane for a Dead Princess; SERGE RACHMANINOFF : Isle of the Dead – Chicago Sym./Fritz Reiner – RCA Victor/Analogue Productions three channel SACD CAPC 2183SA, 43 min. (10/14/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Salina, Kansas-based Analogue Productions has undertaken what I hope is a large project to release all the wonderful old “Golden Age” RCA Victor “Living Stereo” recordings of the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner [Some were released on very inexpensive SACDs by Sony Music some years ago…Ed.] I am familiar with the “Spain” album in the new SACD release and now these two.
Certainly, if one is already familiar with the Reiner era in Chicago, then there is probably little quibble with the performances themselves, here. All of the these works still stand up quite well in any discussion of “best available” but, in my mind, especially Reiner’s renditions of the Prokofieff Lt. Kije Suite and the Ravel Rapsodie Espagnole. (Incidentally, it is interesting that the publicity and design people at the old RCA knew that to spell “Prokofieff” and “Rachmaninoff” with the double ‘f’ instead of the fairly common ‘v’ is in recognition that, in Russian, a ‘v’ is never pronounced as an English ‘f.’)
Even in Chicago, where I grew up and completed all my education, I have fond memories of the substantial – and understandable – buzz during the Solti regime (characterized by what was the orchestra’s sheer force and volume.) Such enthusiasm was often met by those older than myself saying what a reserved genius Fritz Reiner was and that “those were the days.” What is true for me and for many, I suspect, is that I really have never heard a Reiner-conducted masterpiece that I did not enjoy a great deal.
I have all of these on vinyl, going back a ways and the issue with these SACDs is, therefore, sound. The sound here is excellent! There is a realistic range of dynamic and a very clean re-mastering of what was already some really good audio design in the hands of the RCA engineers of the 1950s and 1960s. These discs do make my old LPs seem flat and “old” by comparison (and I take very good care of my “albums”…) I have had friends tell me that the Classic Records LP reissue of the Prokofieff/Stravinsky recording on 200 gram vinyl on a good turntable sounds just as good as the present SACD, center channel notwithstanding. [But if you have three similar frontal speakers it does make a difference, though usually you are prevented from using a pseudo- multichannel option with them…Ed.]
This is interesting but these SACDs are very good indeed. Reiner’s programming gives us two wonderful works (one per album) that are not heard nearly enough: Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale and Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead.
I cannot imagine anyone who loves these works not really enjoying these two releases and the wonderful performances therein. For the younger crowd, Fritz Reiner may not be a household name but – in many ways – this was the “Golden Age” of American orchestras, populated by Ormandy, Szell, Reiner, et al. It is quite a pleasure to have such sonically impressive examples to get reacquainted with this era.