SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews, Part 2 of 3 – Classical (beg.)
Published on February 1, 2005
Published on February 1, 2005
Now the Green Blade Riseth – Stockholm Cathedral Choir / Gustaf Sjokvist, Conductor – Adolf Fredrik Children’s Choir / Gunnel Kyhle, Leader – Johannes Youth Choir / Anders Eby, Conductor – Bengt Berg, Organ – Proprius PRSACD 9093 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD – 65 minutes *****:
Unlike most choral recordings that are liturgically based (and often resemble a traditional mass), the music on this disc takes more of a folk-mass approach, with organ, guitar and flute accompaniment. The songs here are quite simply, just that – religious songs, and hymns – some that span generations, and many that are quite contemporary. The instrumentation heard here reflects efforts by the church in Sweden in the seventies to offer a more contemporary feel to religious music, and to lessen the perceptions brought by the more formal, organ-based accompaniments most common to congregations at the time. The presentations here are very charming, and have a great sense of familiarity, as well.
The multichannel hybrid SACD disc offers a bit of an unexpected twist – yes, there’s a 4.0 surround mix in addition to the stereo SACD layer. A/B switching between layers revealed very little difference in sound quality – each layer offers Proprius’ trademark soundstage presentation, both broad and deep – and an expertly rendered palette of vocal and instrumental textures. If anything, I’d give the multichannel version a slight edge, with an ever-so-slight increase in front-to-back depth of soundfield. The stereo SACD layer offers an excellent presentation of the recorded acoustic, and will thrill the two-channel purists out there. The Redbook CD layer, while also quite good, seemed a bit pale, and perhaps thin, in comparison to both SACD layers.
While I must confess that my real love lies with acapella choral music, I always found this disc an enjoyable and uplifting listen. And a real bargain, to boot, as the disc contains additional material from later sessions that wasn’t on the original release. Very highly recommended!
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Poisoned Kiss – Janice Watson, Soprano; Gail Pearson, Soprano; James Gilchrist, Tenor – Adrian Partington Singers – BBC National Orchestra of Wales / James Clark, Leader; Richard Hickox, Conductor – Chandos CHSA 5020(2) – Multichannel Hybrid SACD – 116 minutes ****:
The Poisoned Kiss is Ralph Vaughan Williams’ almost forgotten opera; this new recording from Chandos represents its premiere recording. Apparently, he was somewhat unhappy with the original libretto when the piece premiered in the late twenties. After the original librettist’s death, he purchased all rights to the piece, and had it extensively reworked in the fifties; what we hear with this first recording are the fruits of that effort. Originally, there was a great deal of spoken dialogue present in the work, and it contained numerous twenties references which VW felt dated the piece too much. The new revision removed most of the dated references, and this recording omits most of the remaining dialogue to allow for better flow of the work.
The story involves an empress and a sorcerer who wish to marry; her parents refuse, but due a miscommunication, the sorcerer comes to believe that he has been spurned by the empress. They each eventually marry others, and the sorcerer’s union gives birth to a daughter, while the empress’ marriage produces a son (the prince). The sorcerer is aware that the empress has born a son, so he plots to raise his daughter on poisons, so that when she and the prince finally meet (as he knows they will), he will be killed by love’s first kiss. The empress, meanwhile, is wise to the sorcerer’s plans, and raises the prince on antidotes, so that he will be impervious to the poisons. The plot unfolds with numerous twists and turns, and much great singing and long stretches of previously unheard music.
The music VW composed for the work either occasionally borrows bits from other works, or contained the seeds for works he would later compose. At the opera’s debut, he even requested that the house lights stay up, and that the audience continue talking through the overture, so that they wouldn’t get too familiar with the various tunes he’d use throughout. I’m a really big Vaughan Williams’ fan, and yet, I still heard so much delightfully new music here, that I still can’t believe that this is a premiere recording!
The DSD transfer is sourced from a 24/96 recording, but as with Chandos’ other VW SACDs (which are also sourced from 24/96 originals), the presentation is superb, and suffers not one bit. Very highly recommended.
BARBER: Vanessa – Christine Brewer, Soprano; Susan Graham, Mezzo-Soprano; William Burden, Tenor – BBC Singers / Stephen Betteridge, Chorus Master – BBC Symphony Orchestra / Michael Davis, Leader; Leonard Slatkin, Conductor – Chandos CHSA 5032(2) – Multichannel Hybrid SACD – 122 minutes ****:
The story concerns Vanessa, who has languished in a secluded villa for twenty years following a failed romance with her lover Anatol. She lives with her young niece Erika, and receives news that Anatol is coming for a much-delayed and unexpected visit. Upon his arrival and prior to coming in full view of him, she expresses her love for him; when he reveals himself, it becomes obvious that he is not Anatol her old lover (who has since died), but his son, now in his early twenties. Erika is smitten with Anatol, and they have a brief dalliance, while Vanessa realizes that she is also in love with young Anatol. Mayhem soon ensues.
While there is some superbly melodic singing throughout, Barber made no mystery of his love for Berg’s Wozzeck, and while the music is unmistakably Barber’s own, it also reflects much of Berg’s influences (read: intensely dark and dramatic!). Both Christine Brewer (as Vanessa) and Susan Graham (as Erika) are superb in their respective roles. This disc is also sourced from a 24/96 digital original, but as with the Vaughan Williams disc above, offers a superb presentation of the material. Highly recommended.
MONTEVERDI: The Sacred Music 2 – Choir of the King’s Consort – The King’s Consort / Robert King, Conductor – Hyperion SACDA67438 – Multichannel Hybrid SACD – 67 minutes ****:
The secular works of Monteverdi are justly given a place of high importance in the musical pantheon; his sacred works, however, have been almost universally neglected. This disc is the second in a series from The King’s Consort that explores those sacred works, and offers them in splendid 5.1 SACD surround sound. Several small-scale madrigals, with varying degrees of vocal and instrumental support, bookend the disc’s centerpiece, the acapella Mass for Four Voices. While the presentation is acapella, they choose not to limit the performance to four voices – the entire choir joins in, to marvelous effect. The SACD is a model of how choral recordings should be mixed for surround sound, and shouldn’t disappoint anyone. Very highly recommended.
RAVEL: String Quartet in F; DEBUSSY: String Quartet in G Minor – Parkanyi Quartet – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD PRD/DSD 250 208, 56:40 ****:
A familiar pairing of two of the most appealingly dreamy string quartets in the repertory. The Debussy more solidly in an impressionistic style and the Ravel of a decade later, as with his other music, more precise and elegant. The Parkanyi Quartet is named after its leader viiolinist Istvan Parkanyi, but three of its members were in the Orlando Quartet which achieved fame in the late 70s and early 80s. A couple years back we reviewed a Surrounded By DVD-A of the same music, which also provided the Faure String Quartet which is in a similar vein. That one featuring the Guarneri String Quartet. I find this earlier version to display more variety of timbre and attack and somewhat more precision in performance. The multichannel sonics are also a bit cleaner and more precise. However, the Parkanyi Quartet’s more rounded and lyrical approach to the music might be more appealing to some listeners. Your choice might also be controlled by which format player you own if you don’t have a universal disc player.
RACHMANINOFF: Vespers (All Night Vigil) – Soloists/Finnish National Opera Chorus/Eric-Olof Söderström – Naxos multichannel SACD 6.110067, 54:00 ***:
The recording was made in a church in Helsinki, Finland. A recent Pentatone SACD version of the Vespers had more of a surround field, less of an edgy quality to the choral timbre, and less IM distortion in the big climaxes. However, the frontal imaging in the Naxos recording is exceptional.
MOZART: Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter;” Concerto for Flute in D major; Concerto for Flute in G major – Jacques Zoon, flute/Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman – Telarc multichannel SACD-60624, 77:07 ****:
The brilliant Jupiter Symphony was Mozart’s last symphony and is normally heard played by an only slightly-reduced modern symphony orchestra. It takes on a freshness and appeal when it is heard with not just a chamber orchestra but a chamber orchestra playing all period instruments, as this one does. The surround mix is very natural and involving without drawing attention to itself, and the flute soloist is dead center whether or not you are using a center channel.
MOZART: Le Nozze di Figaro, highlights – Hungarian National Chorus, Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, cond. Michael Halász; Count of Almaviva: Bo Skovhus; Countess of Almaviva: Marina Mescheriakova; Susanna: Judith Halász; Figaro: Renato Girolami – Naxos multichannel SACD 6.110014 ****:
These highlights from Mozart’s ubiquitous Marriage of Figaro (recorded in Budapest’s Phoenix Studio in the fall of 2002) sound too canned, lacking the spontaneity of a live recording. Although this drawback is all too common in studio recordings, it can be mitigated to a large extent; unfortunately, this is not the case here. One example of this predicament is the miking of the Countess’s famous “Porgi amor” in Act 2, which gives the impression of a grand hall rather than an intimate boudoir. Another frustrating limitation of this recording is the singing of Judith Halász, who as Susanna sounds too ponderous, devoid of the lighthearted frothiness essential to this role. Further, in the Rondo “Al desio di chi t’adora” (Act 4), she can barely keep up. The question then becomes, Do we need yet another CD of the high points of this opera, particularly since Karl Böhm’s superlative recording is so readily available on Deutsche Grammophon? [Of course – since it’s the first in semi-hi-res surround sound!…Ed.] The answer is a guarded yes, if only to revel in Bo Skovhus’s charming Count and Mescheriakova’s tender Countess. Skovhus, whose tone is warmer and more voluminous than Fischer-Dieskau’s, sounds buttery and smooth. His partner, Mescheriakova, sings with delicacy and variety, throwing the high notes with great abandon. Monarcha as Bartolo has a deep, rich, and satisfying bass, but Breedt as Cherubino sounds a bit shrill on top. The ensemble work is excellent and the conducting is smooth.
TELEMANN: Tafelmusik = Overture and Suite in D major for oboe, trumpet, strings and basso continuo; Quartet in D minor for 2 flutes, recorder & basso continuo; Concerto in F major for 3 violins, violino grosso & basso continuo; Conclusion in E minor for 2 flutes, strings & basso continuo – Musica Amphion/Pieter-Jan Belder – Brilliant Classics multichannel SACD 92213 (Distr. by Qualiton), 61:13 ****:
BRUCKNER: Mass in D minor for soloists, choir & orchestra – quartet of soloists/Chamber Choir of Europe/Würtemberg Philharmonic, Reutlingen/Nicol Matt – Brilliant Classics multichannel SACD 92212 (Distr. by Qualiton), 50:38 ****:
Two SACDs for fans of solo piano…
ROSSINI: Complete Works for Piano Vol. 5 = Quelques riens pour album; Album de Chaumiere – Paolo Giacometti, Piano Erard 1837 – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 20504, 68:27 ****:
Lang Lang Live at Carnegie Hall = SCHUMANN: Abegg-Variations; Träumerei; HAYDN: Piano Sonata in C major; SCHUBERT: Wanderer-Fantasie; TAN DUN: Eight Memories in Watercolor; CHOPIN: Nocturne in D flat major; LISZT: Reminiscences of Don Juan de Mozart; Liebestraum; ANON: Horses (erhu & piano) – Lang Lang, piano – DGG multichannel SACD (2 discs) 474 875-2, 61:42, 35:51 ****:
Marches In Hi-Fi – Boston Pops Orchestra / Arthur Fiedler, Conductor – JVC JM-XR24020 – XRCD-24 Disc – 45 minutes ****:
Another superb remastering of a classic RCA Living Stereo disc by JVC on XRCD, this disc is Arthur Fiedler at his best. Among the very best of the XRCD-24 discs I’ve heard, this disc offers an exceptional presentation of the music, and is, without a doubt, the finest available digital-disc version of this classic.
Now, the bad news: as good as this disc is, it didn’t impress me anywhere nearly as much as the recent batch of RCA Living Stereo SACDs did. And at thirty-plus bucks a pop for the XRCD, I’d probably hold out to see if this gem gets released on SACD by RCA anytime soon (probably with generous bonus material, and at a very attractive price). Let your wallet be your guide.
Stokowski – Rhapsodies =
Ready To Go – Philippe Saisse Acoustique Trio featuring Kelli Sae – JVC SVCD 1047 – XRCD-24 Disc – 49 minutes **:
I have a hard time categorizing this disc – is it contemporary jazz, or is it Europop? It reminded me a great deal of what the Crusaders were attempting on their string of albums throughout the late seventies and early eighties (i.e., Street Life), only minus the stellar instrumentation and infectiously delicious grooves that populated that classic body of work. I listened to this disc repeatedly, and regardless of how I tried, I could never quite succumb to the soulless groove this album attempts to deliver.
Sonically, the album was quite good, though I’m not sure where the trio gets its “Acoustique” bent, with all the sampling and synth layering going on here. Maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea – I’d definitely try this one, if possible, before antying up the thirty-plus bucks.
— Tom Gibbs