SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique; Love Scene from Romeo et Juliette Dramatic Symphony – Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch – RCA Red Seal

Only two-channel on the Symphonie, but edges the three-channel competition on Mercury

Published on September 21, 2006

BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique; Love Scene from Romeo et Juliette Dramatic Symphony – Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch – RCA Red Seal
BERLIOZ: Symphonie fantastique; Love Scene from Romeo et Juliette Dramatic Symphony – Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch – RCA Red Seal Living Stereo Multichannel SACD 82876-67899-2, 60:11 ****:

The recording dates for these two Berlioz works were 1954 and 1961.  Munch is a recognized master Berlioz interpreter; a complete collection of all his Berlioz recordings was reissued by Red Seal a year or two ago on CD, and it included the Symphonie.  Some of the earliest Living Stereo recordings were made in two-channel form, but the producers and recording engineers decided they would have more control over the final mix if they utilized the three-channel Ampexes also available in the mid-50s.  Remember this was prior to the introduction of the stereodisc in 1958, and although a few two-channel two-track prerecorded tapes were being sold, it wasn’t yet set in stone that stereo would be only two channels rather than three.

So the earlier of these recordings is two-channel only, meaning that the SACD stereo option on the Symphonie is identical to the multichannel option.  When it switches to the lovely Love Scene selection there is a definite filling-in of the center of the orchestral soundstage and a more realistic spatial placement of the sections of the orchestra. However, in spite of this Munch’s dynamic and gutsy performance of the familiar Symphonie edges it ahead of the actual three-channel SACD reissue on Mercury by Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Paray benefits from a wider soundstage due to the center channel, but Munch still has a bit more impact. The RCA SACD has better orchestral bells in the final Witches’ Sabbath movement.  I’d forgotten just how prominent those bells are!  They probably get considerable help from the much more accurate sampling rate of SACD.  Back in the 60s Bernstein’s LP which featured his lecture on and performance of the Symphonie was titled “Berlioz Takes a Trip.”  Well, enjoying this overly-familiar work again in both of these exciting performances with the added clarity of the hi-res sonics was a trip for me without the psychedelics.

- John Sunier




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