RIMSKY-KORSAKOFF: Scheherazade – Chicago Sym. Orch. /Fritz Reiner – RCA Living Stereo/ Analogue Productions three-channel SACD CAPC 2446 SA, 43:21 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (5/13/14) *****:
PROKOFIEFF: Lieutenant Kije; STRAVINSKY: Song of the Nightingale – Chicago Sym. Orch. /Fritz Reiner – RCA Living Stereo/ Analogue Productions three-channel SACD CAPC 2150 SA, 42:43 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (10/14/14) *****:
These classic albums are two of the “Golden Age” jewels in the RCA Living Stereo crown; each of these Lewis Layton recordings are marvels of audio engineering, and have never been bettered even fifty-plus years on. And the performances by Fritz Reiner and the CSO are definitive on every artistic level. These classic warhorses have been released in a number of different formats over the year, each claiming superiority to the others, so you may ask yourself, “why again?” Hi-res downloads are beginning to become available for some of the RCA/LSC titles; HDTracks lists the Rimsky-Korsakoff disc that is obviously (from the listed sample rate) taken from the Sony/BMG SACD masters. Some of the RCA/LSC titles (neither of these in particular quite yet) are beginning to show up on the AP Super HiRez site as well, though it’s not clear whether they’re taken from the Analogue Productions remasterings – we really need a little more transparency when it comes to source material for high resolution downloads, don’t we? [Absolutely – especially those that are upsampled from CD quality digital and all analog reel-to-reel. Some feel that neither of these can be called hi-res and I certainly agree on the first…Ed.]
And, of course, it would be remiss for me not to mention that the original BMG/Sony SACD release (of the Scheherazade, at least – the Prokofieff was never released as an SACD) was also in three-channel sound, contained the Stravinsky “Song of the Nightingale,” and clocked in at about seventy minutes. Each of these versions from Analogue Productions replicate the programs of the original ’50s RCA releases as on the original vinyl, and are in keeping with their current RCA/LSC series of releases where the LPs and SACDs are consistent with each other content-wise. With these SACDs (and the Analogue Production LPs) retailing for about $30 versus $12 for the original SACD release – is the additional $18 well spent on discs that contains less content?
The answer is a most definite “Yes!” In my humble opinion, these discs possess better sonics, three-channel imaging, retrieval of ambient cues and overall improved retrieval of detail (we can only truly compare the Scheherazade as SACDs) than the stock BMG/Sony discs. And by no small margin – I’ve heard several of these Analogue Production reissues, and they’re uniformly magnificent on every level, and are about as close to the sound of the LPs or master tapes as we’re probably ever going to get. [Strange, they sounded about the same on my equipment…Ed.]
I know that some will complain about the relatively short run-time of these discs compared to the standard releases, but I must confess that I was never a big fan of RCA’s jumbling and intermixing content from various titles. It may make a certain amount of sense for the consumer to offer the bonus content, but I really hate when they take absolute classic recordings – like the Prokofieff Lt. Kije disc (one of the ten best RCA/LSCs ever!) and jumble it with additional content from Hovanness. It was never released as an SACD in the first place – each of these discs deserves to enjoy the limelight as originally released. Yes, $30 is a lot to ask, but if you want the very best incarnation of these amazing, remarkable and classic recordings, you’re going to have to bite the bullet. Very highly recommended!
[The Amazon link for the Prokofiev & Stravinsky is for the vinyl since they don’t carry the SACD…Ed.]
– Tom Gibbs