You must have noticed that many of the CD labels have once-more trotted out some outstanding albums from their archives and run them through the latest reproduction format (hybrid SACD). I might say, “Phewieee!?! Will this never end? They are trying to get at my walkin’ around money, again.” You may have bought some of these records as mono releases (if you are as ancient as I), then again as stereo LPs, then as CDs, and now they want me to buy the same stuff for the fourth time?!? She-it. (Don’t that look funny in print?) Is it worth it? There seems to be some record company self-interest involved, I must admit. Funny how the record companies just don’t enjoy the pristine reputation that some of our other industries enjoy. (See Dannen, Fredric: Hit Men, Times Books, 1990 for the most damning account.) But, I have maintained from the first, you’ll grudgingly remember, that this newest format, SACD, is the bees’ knees. I mean ta tell ya, Bunky, this is the real she-it. The best yet. And, finally, after considerable smoke and mirrors, all that was promised (in 1982 when some ad-writer said the CD would bring us “perfect sound, forever”), is delivered.
You probably have some disproportionate amount of your own Gross Domestic Product tied up in some sort of a sound system. It may range from a good portable CD player and a pair of decent ‘phones, to “entry level” receiver plus lo-budge speakers, to super audiophile. But whether you’ve been piling up gear in your dorm room or your mansion, you’ve had to have asked of yourself, “What is this gear for?” Overdrive? Nah: “To listen to your favorite tunes through,” is the answer. So forget about being exploited by the large corporations that rule our lives. (Have you seen some of the quarterly profit announcements lately?) And just make the best of a bad situation by buying some of the recent re-issues that match your tastes and pocketbook. That’s where the rubber meets the road, dudes. I know the younger audiophiles among you are going to say, “Now the Old Dude is going to get on his bandwagon preaching that the older musicians of his time are better than the musicians of our time.” I know, I know. And anyone who does that – like the like the guy who insists the prize-fighters of his day were tougher than the current crop – runs the risk of being viewed as a terrible pain in the ass. I’ll risk that if you make a mental note that you must checkout some of the SACDs I’ll mention here before you conclude I’m a bleephole. I think you’ll be surprised.
MAX’S 23rd CORPORATE UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES BLUES:
I woke up this mornin’ wonderin’ where does the rubber meet the road. (That’s me.) Whee, oooh (That’s my Hohner harmonica). Kah chung. Kah Chung (That’s my Sears Roebuck acoustic guitar.) I woke up this mornin’ cogitatin’ on the rubber and the road. Oooh whee oooh. Kah Chung. I woke up this mornin’ wondrin’ bout the rubber and the road; decided it was anywhere the music make me go – Whee oooh, Whee oooh. Kah Ching, Kah Chung. Whee oooh, Whee oooh. Blues in E major. Can you hear it? Kinda, sorta Junior Wells ‘n’ Buddy Guy. Whee oooh.Whee oooh. Diddle-dee Doodle-dee doo. Shave and a haircut, KAH CHUNG.
ARE YOU OLD ENOUGH?
Are you old enough? Are you old enough to remember? Are you old enough to remember The Giz? Are you old enough to remember The Giz and recordings made at the dawn of the stereo era, the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, Country Joe and the Fish, John Lee Hooker, ‘n’ Led Zep? How about the great performances of the great orchestras, under the batons of the good ole boy conductors of the “Golden Age” of vinyl LPs? Most of these recordings were made with simple stereo microphone setups, using tubed tape recorders, real simple tubed mixdown boards, running wide tape at high speed, and sending signal through tinned copper co-axial cable to capture the best sound then available. Great pains were taken to achieve a sonic integrity. I once spoke to a recording engineer for Mercury Records, “Reds” Leverenz, and he said: While recording the organ at Église de Saint Sulpice, in Paris, it was standard practice to run an uninterrupted pair of cables from the carefully placed microphones inside the church, up through the bell tower (about ten stories from the ground), and back down (ten more stories) to the street level studio-van (that Mercury had shipped from The States) – just to avoid making additional solder connections or mechanical splices. It was this kind of dedication to craft that made many of the recordings of this period so clean, so detailed, so beautiful, and so emotionally rewarding..
Along with Mercury’s “Living Presence” series recorded by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart Fine, the RCA “Shaded Dog” series recorded by Lewis Layton and John Crawford, the London-Decca ffrr (mono – and later, stereo) series engineering often attributed to one “Mr. Bear,” the Szell-driven Columbia series, and the early Kenneth Wilkinson EMI stereo recordings, were all often quite special. For example, the EMI (1960) LP recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, (Angel 3605 D/L), with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Eberhard Wachter, et al, was so good in performance, so well recorded, that it remained the most highly recommended version on many “critic’s choice” lists for forty (40) years!! In the original packaging there was no mention of the recording engineer, but those who know, knew it was Kenneth Wilkinson. It was rumored that the husband of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was an executive at EMI, and at his insistence Wilkinson was in charge of all her recordings. As a matter of fact, Wilkinson became a kind of cult figure at the time. In the demimonde of music lovers at my university, it became cool to buy classical music only recorded by the labels’ “A team” of recording engineers as named above.
We must try to remember that the best techniques of stereo recording were really just beginning to emerge, then, (say, during the decade 1953 to 1963) moving away from freight trains that would rumble east to west through your listening room. There were a generation of new stereo microphones selected to give a larger sonic perspective, and the recording engineers were just then trying new combinations of gear because some pieces were “bright” and others were “warm.” Magnetic tape recording was also relatively young, with the first machines brought back to the states from Germany after World War II ended in 1945. The Ampex corporation avidly began making tape systems for numerous uses. By about 1953 recording engineers were experimenting with tape speed and tape width, compression, equalization, etc. The record companies knew they had a good thing going for them, and they were sincere in trying to get the best sound they could, especially in the early years, which would get the new stereo format off on the right foot and usher in what came to be called – the “Golden Age.” Many of the early stereo LPs were done, on purpose, as if demonstration records. And many became demos. They were just super, done to the highest standards of their time. Fritz Reiner’s leading his Chicago Symphony Orchestra through his countryman Bela Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra (1955), is another example of an interpretation of a work that is still considered among the best in many critic’s choice lists, and it is available in SACD format, RCA 82876-61390-2 .
SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE: WITH SAMPLING, MORE IS MORE.
Now imagine what has to be done with pristine master tapes of such magical recording sessions to get them into the digital mode. Not much. They are already recorded with consummate care, with the best gear used in the best ways. They were not usually compressed nor equalized: the RIAA equalization was apparently added at the cutting lathe. In transfer to digital, sometimes the tapes were played on the fifty-year-old machines used in recording them, only pooged with up-to-date electronic parts (though not circuits). So, usually all one had to do was convert the analog master tapes to digits. Remember, many of these performances were already issued in regular digital sampling format at 44.1/16. Now this data would be upsampled to the DSD/SACD rate of 2.8224MHz/1 bit. This means the music is sliced up into many more digital snap shots, like motion picture film frames, only instead of going at 24 frames per second, SACD is like super-slo-mo motion pictures in terms of resolution played back to simulate “real time.”
By sampling at this much higher rate new details jump out of passages you thought you knew cold, exposing nuances previously hidden in some hitherto mixture of opaque sounds – the nearest phrase that might capture it would be, “sonic sludge.” This sonic sludge was a mixture of lots of different instruments playing loudly that would saturate even the best of the old red-book CDs. Reprocessing them into SACD gets the sludge out. So in SACD we can really hear “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” played on a Sony (Columbia) recording of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra in full cry (1958), with every Wagnerian shading captured. Similarly, in red-book CD, with its lower sampling rate, Jasha Heifetz plays the Beethoven and Mendelson Violin Concertos with his usual aplomb (1956); but in SACD (2005), with its much higher sampling rate, we make out the fastest, smallest details as they go flying by, and we can finally get an idea of Heifetz’s majestic tone, which was very loud when you heard him in person. I finally got to understand the fuss my folks made when Heifetz came to town.
MODEST SYSTEM PLUS SACD = IMPROVED SOUND
If your system is a high-resolution one, you can hear all this. Some relatively inexpensive rigs can do justice to a good recording as they lack only the expensive extreme bottom octave and the diamond clarity of the highest octaves. The mid-range is where all the action is. If you haven’t yet, you can improve a modest system with a decent SACD player. As a matter of historical record, I’ve been saying for some years now that the kind of systems that benefit most from having a good SACD (stereo) player, are those unfortunately dubbed “mid-fi” systems by neurotic and basically insecure writers; or those “club-basement-systems” earmarked to be developed into a surround-sound rig. I don’t like the term mid-fi: while it may capture the price range, it doesn’t capture the performance range. Still, a good but not killer-expensive SACD player (Sony or Marantz each has an abundance of price points) can jack up the quality of a moderately good system a couple of notches, make the average system into an above-average system. Maybe, if you’re lucky and enjoy good fortune with the Stereo Gods, you can get a synergistic phenomena (things work better together than when judged separately) where a good sound is improved by a good room. Now you’d be cookin’.
So, anyone with a reasonably good system or better, and a pretty good sonic environment (though I’ve also argued that a good surround-system can correct the flaws in a less than ideal room), anyone can hear the benefits of these golden oldie SACD re-releases. They were recorded long ago, and often were the beneficiaries of tubed recording electronics. They were often engineered by meticulous guys whose labels viewed themselves as in a friendly competition with the other labels. They were done at the time when stereo was new and each recording was judged as a “Stereo-Spectacular.” The advent of the new SACD allows more minutes of music on one disc, so often the new, SACD re-releases contain over seventy-five (75) or more minutes of music, or two LPs worth. The good, high-volume, vendors often get discounts they can pass on to the consumer, so these re-releases are often available at discount prices — often around $10. You can go to the web-site of your favorite on-line vendors (say, Amazon) to see which of the archival LPs have been re-issued as SACDs, and which vendor offers the best bargain prices. I’ll describe a few here:
GREAT SOUND, GREAT PERFORMANCES, BARGAIN PRICES
RCA: Stravinsky, Igor: Pétrouchka; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond.(1959) + Franck, César: Symphony in D Minor; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. (1961) RCA, SACD, 82876-67897-2. Monteux was Stravinsky’s choice to debut a few of his ballets, was an early collaborator, and all his life (1875-1964) – well the last fifty years, or so – was considered the nearest thing to having Stravinsky himself conduct his music. If you don’t know him, his Beethoven will give you an idea of what a modern/conservative way he had with an orchestra. The point here is, you hear every damn thing that’s going on in this music. It is extraordinary. Though recorded in 1959, it gives us a facsimile of what was likely heard in 1909, now nearly a century ago. This recording may even qualify as illustrative and revelatory (my two new favorite buzz words), for these are two particularly apt words to describe this music, so rife it is with detail. What I don’t hear in the earlier recording formats is the separation in tone and space of each of the instruments, particularly the woodwinds that are typically lost in the louder braying of the brass. Not on this very vigorous recording. And the woodwinds, it should be noted, are often providing those notes that make up the somewhat dissonant Pétrouchka chord. With those notes no longer swallowed up by the quicksand of sonic sludge, I hear, for the first time, all the notes, all the time. Hey, that has the makings of a haiku, or an ad, or both. For example: In arcane Minimal Syllables, Maxie says:
And that, after all is said and written, must be the ideal of the composer and the record company. So here we have a great example of a new technology (high-quality stereo) in service to the music, of a historically important performance, captured nearly a half-century ago, and brought up to date by the SACD format.
Continuing with this same jam-packed hi-res masterpiece, we turn to the Franck D Minor Symphony = This is an example of a less-modern, more mid-nineteenth century Romantic piece and demonstrates Monteux’s ease with that period’s French music. While not one of my desert-island favorites, this music is quite something in its own right. Lushly orchestrated, with broad sweeping swatches of sound coming at the listener, instead of the sometimes angular, percussive chamber orchestra effects Stravinsky was fond of (as in his A Soldier’s Tale, and his Dumbarton Oaks). Here we have a post-Wagnerian large scale orchestra, playing a symphony with a French sensibility, though not as impressionistic as Ravel or Debussy. It begins on the dark and troubled side of life, and ends with the triumph of man on the bright and sunny side. Again, it has passages very thick in texture, with a lot of instruments doing different things. It is definitely more than a string-quartet, or a piano sonata, stretched out by clever orchestration into a larger work. It is a complete work that uses all the sonorities of the orchestra (even featuring a prominent harp) to develop a series of effects that seem to evoke various moods in the audience. You might say it was an experimental mood piece. And it takes SACD’s explosive dynamics (horsepower?), and anti-sludge additive, to show you just how Franck achieves this. Of course, you yourself must do the deconstruction, so I can leave the rest to you. It’s a little bit of work, but worth the effort.
Mussorgsky, Modest: Pictures at an Exhibition, A Night on Bald Mountain (and other composers’ Russian Favorites); Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. (1957) RCA, SACD 828766-13942-6. This may be another example of a recording that became a demonstration disc at many audio boutiques (hi-fi stores, we used to call them), during the Golden Age. Pictures at an Exhibition is an example of a brilliant-on-its-own solo piano piece improved by orchestration of consummate skill, in this case by Maurice Ravel. Similarly, the early stereo sound is improved by its recent conversion to SACD. It is also a work that jumps back and forth between the musical interpretation of the painter’s vision of “The Gnomus,” who lived under the bridge in many a childhood fairy tale, and the majesty of “The Great Gate at Kiev,” as famous in its time and place as the Arc de Triomphe was in Paris. This recording captures all the scurrying, not unlike Mendelsohn’s “Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in representing these supernatural gnomes and imps, only more syncopated and dance-like than twittering. This is an example of woodwind playing that generates excitement by the interplay of subtle details coming from each of the instruments, and this recording captures this flavor admirably. At the other end of the spectrum is Ravel’s stacking of brass choirs atop one another in sonic space above the great gate. Just when you think they’ve made the definitive statement of the Great Gate theme, the next iteration gathers more complexity and texture by having more parts (horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas), more harmonies, building a climax that takes its time until it reaches a very thick sonic soup, but with no instruments lost in the recording. It is amazing in that a recording of this age can begin to sound in a class with Chesky’s new Area 31, a recording that captures space, texture, harmonics, and dynamics to a degree few can match. That is the highest compliment I can offer.
The other Mussorgsky work, A Night on Bald Mountain, is an attempt to capture the sights and sounds of a witches’ sabbath, and it succeeds in being one of the classical repertoire’s most harrowing pieces, as demonstrated by Disney’s “Fantasia” that is broadcast on TV from time to time, and which scared the she-horsefeathers out of me as a kid. Other equally successful, but not as well known, pieces on this CD are Tchaikovsky’s Marche miniature, Borodin’s Polovtsian March, Tchaikovsky’s March Slave, Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla Overture, and, Kabalevsky’s Calas Breugnon Overture. So if you like Russian marches and overtures, or Mussorgsky’s better known works, this is right up your alley. If you’ve never heard any Russian Favorites before, then this will fill a much-needed gap on your shelf. And if you want to hear what stereo could sound like in 1957 as we roll up to 2006, this one’s for you, bud. Reiner was never finer. ooops.
Sony: Being no man’s fool, Sony has taken the same strategy upon itself. It, too, has taken some of its better-selling and best-sounding early stereo recordings from the shelves, remastered them in SACD format, and re-released them. The catalogue of classical orchestras and star soloists that it offers comes from what was previously known as the Columbia label. This was led by The Cleveland Orchestra (under maestro George Szell), The Philadelphia Orchestra (under maestro Eugene Ormandy), and The New York Philharmonic, (under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. The truly great outstanding performances of each were (like RCA’s Boston Symphony Orchestra and The Chicago Symphony greatest hits) so numerous that you’ll have to go through the exercise of Googling them to see which have been re-issued in SACD, and what among those intrigues you. One example I’d like to point out is called “Szell/Wagner: Great Orchestral Highlights from the Ring of the Nibelungs.” SACD; SS89035. This was pretty good as a plain old vanilla Red Book CD. The first time I heard it in SACD I was staggered. It was as if I’d dropped my guard for an instant and an audio Mike Tyson had whipped a left hook upside my head. I was stunned in disbelief. For a while I couldn’t speak to Corno di Bassetto. When I gathered myself, all I could say was “Holy Moly.” He nodded sagely.
Some wag once wrote that listening to a Wagnerian opera was an act of love, to sit through four hours of music to hear only twenty or thirty minutes that was … great. I’m sure Maestro Szell had heard that, and, who knows, may have felt the same way. His answer to this witticism was to select the bon-bons from the whole Ring Cycle and offer them as a two LP set (if my, er, um, memory serves). The selections are: “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla,” from Das Rheingold; “The Ride Of The Valkyrie” and “Magic Fire Music” from Die Walkürie; “Forest Murmurs” from Siegfried; “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and “Siegfried’s Funeral Music and Conclusion of Act III,” from Götterdämmerung
All I wrote above about the Mussorsgsky Pictures At An Exhibition and the Stravinsky ballet, Petrouchka, applies to Wagner. The dynamics, the harmonic density, the removal of sonic sludge, and the feeling that I was hearing all the notes all the time, are equally true of the Sony SACDs as RCA’s. “Forest Murmurs” begins with rustling leaves, some running water, a bit of wind in the trees, and birdcalls. It seems yet another direct descendant of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. I think Wagner wanted to show his detractors that he wasn’t all bombast, and he demonstrates his skill with considerable flair. “The Ride Of The Valkyries” is a soaring flight over some primeval sea that is constantly crashing on the shore. But, for me, the music that is Wagner at his best is “Siegfried’s Funeral Music.” I find it so vivid, so detailed, it is as though I were a witness, nay, a participant at the funeral of a Teutonic Knight, or, perhaps King Arthur. And the way it builds, and builds toward its climax recalls Prokofief’s score for the Eisenstein film, Alexandre Nevsky. So Wagner was a pivotal figure, calling upon Beethoven to pave the way for Prokofief. Any serious classical music lover will get his jollies off with this music. If you haven’t acquainted yourself with Wagner yet, this is a great way into the mysteries. If you know your Wagner, this is a recording you shouldn’t be without. I should warn you: you will probably feel naked listening to this music without a baton.
Another truly amazing recording is Szell and the Cleveland’s album containing Mahler’s 10th Symphony, Walton’s Partita for Orchestra, and a reading of Stravinsky’s Firebird – Sony SACD SS 89415. Most folks who love Pierre Monteux might sniff and push their noses in the air at the thought of anyone but the dapper Frenchman’s conducting Stravinsky. I find Szell’s spectacular reading of this music the equal of any. It is a little quirky, but surely there’s room for a personal approach to Stravinsky. The detail in the music (Let’s not forget that Stravinsky studied orchestration with Rimsky-Korsakoff) with its Romantic elements trying to contain its modernistic ones, with its competing chords fighting for harmonic hegemony, with relentless march-like rhythm’s inexorable movement toward something, being contested by syncopated cross-rhythms of dance (it is a ballet after all) — together these pushes and pulls hang the listener in a suspended state of tension as the volume gets louder and louder, then softer and softer, then louder again as the mythic bird leaps upon the stage as the bass drum goes BOOM, much like the surprise in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. The recording has so much zotz (immediacy and startleability), so much verve and energy, we can imagine (or form an image in our mind’s eye) of the great Nijinsky leaping and bounding about, in 2005, or nearly a century since he made himself a legend. [This morning, reading the funnies, I found in B.C. someone sleeping as a bolt of lightning strikes nearby. Two frames later the sound arrives: ZOT ! People are always copping my schtick.] The clarity, detail, zotz, and freedom from sludge help make this recording to be as successful as it is, which is formidable.
Similarly the Mahler 10th. It has these moments of epiphanic lucidity. It is said that Mahler’s 9th was his despair evolving into resignation to his oncoming death. He’d been diagnosed with heart disease a few years earlier, and his condition worsened. The Tenth (completed around fifty years after his death) seems, to me, like his belief in the possibility of his own, personal resurrection. There is a passage where a diminuendo approaches near silence, and hard on its heels is a moment of extended cymbal activity. The cymbals rise, swell, and … fall away. And this is done with such keen sensitivity, staying longer than usual but just long enough, that it reminds me of the passage in Dante’s Paradiso, where Dante comes before God, and instead of seeing a Michelangelo style wise old man, he sees this blinding light. After a few moments he can’t take it anymore and he averts his eyes. Afterward he remembers seeing something, and feeling a pulsing of “Universal Love” rise within him. When he tries to remember more, he can’t. It is as though the only thing he has left of the divine experience is an over-exposed bit of photographic film that allows all the light to pass, but no image. This passage in the Mahler 10th makes it clear, to me, that ole Gus was a religious mystic in the great tradition. It is a wonderful moment, this cymbals-as-light epiphany, itself worthy of the price of admission, as they say. Now, I’m not asserting that Mahler was into Dante: that would surprise me. I am saying it’s my opinion Mahler uses the cymbals the way Dante uses the great white light. Both the playing and the engineering are first rate on this one, worthy of the great Szell, and his instrument, the CSO, and captured for the first time in their full expression by SACD. Lesser formats never led me to the idea that for Mahler, in this symphony, using the cymbals in this way was an inventive metaphor for light.
I don’t know bip about Walton’s Partita, so I’ll have to learn it and report back some other time. Isn’t that wild. A critic admitting he doesn’t know bip. Nonetheless, this is a remarkable album.
Telarc: As most of you know, Telarc was a pioneer in the use of digital recording. Early on they transferred the digital to LPs. Some of these recordings were also special. When CDs became available, they offered their best efforts as CDs. Now, they are offering their best stuff, once again, as SACDs. Do I think they are worth it? You bet!! There are many in the Telarc reissue catalogue. Checkout the Telarc website, and seek your favorites.
Two of my favorites are the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. These two performances of the Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel, cond., date from 1981 & 1982, or nearly twenty-five years ago, are now available on one disc of nearly 70 minutes. They have the Telarc “A-team” of Robert Woods and Jack Renner in charge of the project as Producer and Recording Engineer, respectively. This is first rate playing and sound. The Berlioz is terrific, one of three readings in Telarc’s catalogue, mixing vigor and mystery in equal parts. Later in his career, Berlioz shows himself to be something of a mystic, favoring the chorale over the symphony, and the requiem his favorite of all. He liked writing outsized orchestral music to be performed in overly large cathedrals and other public venues. The effect, I think, was to make the listener feel small before music that intimated the eternal, the infinite, and the divine. The Symphonie Fantastique was a very early work, practically juvenilia, that seemed an allegory of his love for the Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson. In it he writes music to depict the heaven and hell his soul is thrust into by his love. The music ranges all over the place, from the waltz at a ball to his dream of a Witches’ Sabbath. There is a march to the scaffold that is particularly harrowing, and shows Berlioz’s interest in the supernatural, and how to use music as a metaphor for it. This music is great for folks new to Berlioz, and for folks who want to have a genuine “Stereo Spectacular” with which to show off their systems. What recommends this performance is first-rate playing, staggering sound, and another musical mystic just flexing his muscles.
This Nutcracker is one of those performances that also conjures the dancers in the mind’s eye. It is played with such brio and élan that Mrs. Dudious, on a long car trip about a year ago, upon hearing it all the way through was visibly excited. “Whew,” she said as the music came to its end, “I finally have an idea of what you get so enthusiastic about. That was an exhilarating CD.” This is my sweetie, Grammy Dudious, who, even as a college-girl, could fall asleep first row center at a bluegrass bar, or a symphony hall, or a rock concert?!? What kept her up into the middle of the night were mystery novels, so much nearly all the same that often she realized she’d already read them when the denouement came. And invigorating music it is! The tunes are all so well-known, and they get so much air-time during the Xmas season, that we all nearly know these pieces by heart. But the details, the small inner voices of the orchestra that hold everything together, have never been so evident as they are on SACDs. So, if you really want to hear The Nutcracker as it was meant to be heard, all the notes all the time, you ought to catch this one. It is nearly Xmas, dude. You’d score points with all the famb-i-lee.
[I pointed out to Max that most of the RCA and Mercury SACD reissues are three channels front without surrounds. He said he is set up for that but didn’t notice much difference. True, on some it’s rather subtle but on others a huge contrast with the two-channel-only option – giving better placement of solo instruments, a wider and deeper soundstage and a wider sweet spot in your seating situation. (You two-channel diehards are missing out on all this!) So if you really want to hear them as they were originally recorded on three-channel tape and were intended to be heard – at least by the Mercury engineers, you need three matching frontal speakers. You’ll score points with old JS…Ed.]
Our musical heritage is wide and deep. We now have significant recordings of about 100 years. Anything that helps us remember where we come from, and how people lived in generations past seems, to me, worth preserving. The new SACD seems to be the best medium we’ve come up with so far. Maybe we’ll find another, more dense storage medium in this coming century, one that can hold orders of magnitude more music. (The Complete Symphonies of Beethoven on one disc??) That would be loverly. Meanwhile, it seems we’re stuck with SACD and I’m damn glad to have it.
So there you have it. Maxie Waxie says to find your favorite old recordings, or to develop a more comprehensive musical library on the cheap, without sacrificing sound quality, reissues on SACD are the way to go. And this is true of jazz, blues, rock, etc. many of which are appearing as greatest hits re-releases. And when you twist, or do the Madison, or do the minuet down to your local SACD boutique, be sure to tell ‘em Max Dudious sent ya’. Ciao bambini.
— Max Dudious
[This article also appears in the December issue of Positive-Feedback Online in slightly different form, and is republished with permission.]