Decca 475 7525, 73:42 *****:
Another in the recent series of reissues titled “Decca – The Originals.” These legendary recordings from the Decca catalog are proclaimed on the jewel boxes as being 96K/24-bit Remastering. Well, of course that refers to the intermediate format between the original analog tapes and the CD glass master. What Decca is doing is similar to Sony Classical’s archiving their analog tape library to DSD before mastering to standard CD. The CD is the same old 44.1K/16-bit we’re all used to. In order to be an actual 96K disc it would have to be a DVD. And come to think of it, why isn’t anybody doing that? Most people also have a DVD player now; in fact a large percentage play all their CDs on their DVD player. And most of the more recent models – even entry level ones – are capable of playing back 96K if you have selected that on the player instead of 48K.
Anyway, whatever the Decca engineers did in the remastering process was completely successful even within the limitations of 44.1K/24-bit at coming extremely close to the sonic quality of the vinyl reissue from Speakers Corner. I don’t know if the original UK pressing of the Decca would be superior but I found the sonics very nearly as excellent on the mid-priced CD as on the $30 audiophile vinyl. The vinyl had a very slight edge in the transparency department, but the CD had better bass end. In a couple of the big climaxes – wind machine and all – the vinyl was somewhat less constricted-sound than the CD. But this sort of achievement would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, especially from a major label. Plus you get two more selections than provided by the LP version! I recall Sheffield did some excellent CD versions of material which they had originally released on both direct disc and from analog tape. The direct disc reissues on CD of course failed to come close, but the CDs from analog tape were at least in the ball park. Now, with advances both in sonic restoration and in the actual mastering and pressing of CDs – such as dealing with jitter – it has become possible to give even the highest-end turntable system and vinyl some serious competition from optical disc.
In the Daphnis et Chloé Golden Age of Recording Hall of Fame, the Munch 1955 version from RCA on vinyl and SACD (two-channel only) has the top spot. However, if you appreciate this wonderfully evocative Ravel ballet score as much as I do, you might want to also have the Decca reissue in your collection. Monteux’s approach is more laid-back, more sensuous and atmospheric, which fits perfectly the scenario conjured up for the ballet. It seems to flow better than the Munch version. This one was recorded in 1959, just a few years after Munch’s. The Rapsodie espagnole is a lovely example of how frequently and successfully French composers turned to the Iberian culture for their musical stimuli. Ravel even had an edge on Debussy in this regard because his ancestry was partly Basque.
– John Sunier