STRAVINSKY: The Soldier’s Tale Suite (L’Histoire du Soldat) – Ars Nova Ensemble/Robert Mandell – HDDT DVD-R

by | Sep 16, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

STRAVINSKY: The Soldier’s Tale Suite (L’Histoire du Soldat)  – Ars Nova Ensemble/Robert Mandell – HDDT DVD-R (96K/24bit), c. 27 minutes *****:

This has to be one of the most amazingly “present” recordings ever made of a seven-person chamber ensemble. The original was a Westminster stereo recording made in the early 1950s and issued on a Sonotape two-track open reel tape in the mid-1950s (prior to the introduction of stereo discs). This is just conjecture, but I put the rousing success of this recording at least partly to the unusual make up of the ensemble. It was selected to fit both low-budget means for production of a simple theatrical drama created by Stravinsky and a poet friend in 1916, and the performers who were available.

The seven players are trombone, cornet, bassoon, clarinet, doublebass, violin and various percussion. Famed clarinetist Stanley Drucker is one of the players. The original chamber-theater piece had a narrator, but the notes with the tape say it is “unnecessary [and] has been omitted from the recording.” Well, the story of the soldier’s adventures with the devil, his violin and a magical book are fairly complicated – having been pieced together from various Russian folk tales into a sort of modern morality place. And I for one think the narrator useful, though on the other hand it would probably detract on repeated hearings from concentrating on the instrumental suite’s qualities of stripped-down Stravinsky.

I threaded up my modded Technics RS-1500 open reel deck with the original Sonotape and rewound it before playing – all my double-track reels are stored as played and rewound before playing to keep the tape layering smoothly.  I carefully cleaned the heads and tape paths, and then adjusted the playback level to exactly match that of the HDDT DVD-R.  (I hadn’t played any open reel tapes for some time and had forgotten what a hassle the whole operation was; vinyl is a breeze compared to it.)  I started both Soldier’s Tales simultaneously and could A/B them with the Sunfire remote from my sweet spot. I used Source Direct (no processing of any kind) on both inputs.

It was honestly nearly impossible to tell the difference between the two feeds. Both put the chamber ensemble smack in front of you, with a silent background (no hiss) and no straining at all on the peaks of the trumpet and percussion. Continued listening revealed only one difference: The HDDT transfer had better and more extended deep bass end.  I wish I had transfers just like this of my entire shelf of about 30 2-track prerecorded tape reels!  True, one is getting a rather short program for one’s $30 – shorter than a typical pop disc and about the same length and cost as most xrcds.  But I have never heard a xrcd that sounded as good as this HDDT disc! F.I.M.’s recent Albeniz: Suite Espanola Decca reissue is in the same camp, but being a full symphony has more challenges than the seven players on his HDDT reissue (which also has the 96K advantage vs. 44.1K of xrcds).

 – John Sunier

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