“Spain” = FALLA: El amor brujo; The Three-Corned Hat; La vida breve: Interlude & Dance; ALBÉNIZ: Iberia – Triana; Fête-Dieu à Seville; Navarra; GRANADOS: Intermezzo from Goyescas – Leontyne Price, sop./ Chicago Sym./Fritz Reiner – RCA Living Stereo

by | Feb 8, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

“Spain” = FALLA: El amor brujo; The Three-Corned Hat (suite); La vida breve: Interlude & Dance; ALBÉNIZ: Iberia – Book 2: Triana; Book 1: Fête-Dieu à Seville; Book 4: Navarra; GRANADOS: Intermezzo from Goyescas – Leontyne Price, sop. (El amor brujo)/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Fritz Reiner – RCA Red Seal Living Stereo Multichannel (3.0) SACD 88697-04607-2, 71:05 *****:

The next release of the best-selling reissue project on CD (over one million sold to date) is finally here. Clearly not everyone purchasing these Living Stereo SACDs is SACD-capable, but they are hybrid and the CD layer is better than it was  on the earlier CD-only reissues. Also some interesting pairings have been made in giving collectors around 70 minutes of music this time around, the original cover art and liner notes, and the series is mid-priced rather than full price (as the similar Mercury Living Presence SACD Series is). That makes them just a bit over one-third the cost of the audiophile vinyl reissues, which are limited to 40 minutes or so length. And in most cases, you’re getting an additional middle channel!

This title was originally a much shorter strictly instrumental collection, without the complete “Love, The Magician” with Price (RCA LSC-2230). However, it was a special edition with cover art front and back and a 12-inch insert booklet with many photos of Spanish scenes as well as the Vincent Sheean essay which is reprinted in the SACD notes. None of the up-to-date technologies can top the experience of holding in your hand the lovely 12-inch artwork on some of these albums.  The notes go into the different ways various composers expressed the Spanish experience in their music. The SACD notes add sections on The History of Living Stereo and Tech Notes which are quite interesting.

The opening El amor brujo – originally a ballet with songs a part of some of the 13 sections – gets the program off to an exciting start with the fire and spark of Falla’s compelling music. The composer created a mysterious gypsy ambiance, but without using any Spanish folk music. The long series of repeated chords at the end of the Ritual Dance of Fire will pin your ears back in a good three-channel setup!  The Price selection was taped a few years later, in 1963, whereas the original Reiner album was recorded in 1958. The three selections from the Three-Cornered Hat show a lighter and more jovial side of Falla.  Another set of threes are the movements from Albeniz’ Iberia, which are inserted out of order in the program. The work was originally for piano solo and was orchestrated most colorfully by Enrique Arbós.  A real audiophile demo track would surely be the Fête-Dieu à Seville from Book 1 of Iberia.  Anyone at all familiar with Reiner’s Living Stereo recordings won’t need to be told these are exciting performances of great impact.

I had the Classic Records vinyl reissue of “Spain” and so did some comparisons with both the two-channel SACD and three-channel SACD options on the new disc. The vinyl reissue had very slightly more “air” than the two-channel SACD (perhaps 10%), and a bit more of a silky sort of timbre. (Sorry I didn’t get around to the 44.1 CD layer; the player I’m evaluating has a rather convoluted way to switch that.)  But the SACD was more precise and evidenced somewhat more extended deep bass from the bass drum in Fête-Dieu. Switching to three-channel playback oddly made the two very different formats sound almost identical! The actual center channel added “air” and realism to the soundstage – widening and deepening it – but with the vinyl – due to poorer channel separation in the stereo MC cartridge – there was an enhanced center mono which made it very difficult to tell the two formats apart when they were synced up! Note that although smaller, my center channel speaker has the same tweeter and similar woofers to my front L & R speakers.  I’ve never heard these three-channel SACDs on a system with an entirely different center channel speaker; I would think such would be problematic.

 – John Sunier


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