RICHARD STRAUSS: Symphonia Domestica, Op. 53; Le bourgeois gentilhomme Suite, Op. 60 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Fritz Reiner – RCA Red Seal

by | Aug 4, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

RICHARD STRAUSS: Symphonia Domestica, Op. 53; Le bourgeois gentilhomme Suite, Op. 60 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Fritz Reiner – RCA Red Seal Three & Two Channel SACD 88697-08282-2, 74:09 *****:

The latest batch of the Living Stereo SACD Series is finally here and they’re all hi-res winners at a good price.  No wonder the series is the most successful reissue series that has ever been released on CD. In all cases the original 15ips and 30ips two and three-channel analog tapes from the “Golden Age” of classical stereo recording have been played on the best available analog tape decks and transferred directly to the DSD format for these hybrid SACDs. Whether two or three-channel, only the frontal channels of the multichannel SACD releases are used – no artificial ambience is added on the surround channels in order to bring listeners the same experience as the original recordings. (Of course this makes it difficult for surround fans to feed the front L + R channels thru ProLogic II or its equivalent to achieve a more enveloping ambience. Opus 3, Albany and others have created 4.0 or 5.0 channel SACDs out of some of their past two-channel master recordings;  if you’re a purist, you can always turn off the surrounds.)

The recording date on both of these selections is 1956 – two years before the stereodisc appeared. So the only way to hear the recordings in stereo was via the few that were issued on two-channel open reel tape, with the center channel mixed equally to the  left and right channels on those originally recorded that way.  The opening of the Symphonia Domestica provides a good illustration of the enhancement of the center channel.  A chamber music sort of ensemble is heard primarily from the center channel, before the rest of the orchestra joins in and the soundstage blossoms out to include the left and right speakers. Try the SACD two-channel option on the disc; while the instruments in the center area of the orchestra are still centered  between your left and right speakers (if you’re seated dead center), they lack the presence and realism heard in the three-channel version.

I don’t find this work my favorite of Strauss’ large orchestral tone poems, but I must admit upon hearing it again that he must have had a very heroic and exciting day in his family life – which is what he intended to portray in the symphony. There are themes representing the Papa, Mama and baby.  The contrasts between chamber-like passages and the impact of the full orchestra are frequent and more effective than ever with the three-channel reproduction.  A switch to two-channel is necessitated with the little suite from Strauss’ incidental music to Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. The combination of its chamber orchestra setting and Neoclassical thrust made it perfect to accompany performances of Moliere’s 17th century play.  Its Baroque style is emphasized by Strauss having used some themes which Lully had originally composed for the premiere performances of the play. Some of the seven sections are not without humor, as Strauss portrays and lampoons the self-important protagonist of the play.

– John Sunier

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