SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews
“Shakespeare’s Tempest” – SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN: Incidental music for The Tempest; JEAN SIBELIUS: Prelude & Suites #2 & #1 from Incidental music for The Tempest – Kansas City Symphony/Michael Stern – Reference Recordings
Published on July 7, 2008
I haven’t included HDCD-encoded standard CDs in our Hi-Res section before, but I feel this one is a cut above the normal CD sonically, in the same way some xrcds and the K2 HD discs of F.I.M. are – even though they all must work with the challenging “bottleneck” of the 44.1K/16-bit CD format. Of course the note on the front of the disc about it being a 24-bit recording is misleading – as are similar notes on many CDs today. Whatever higher-resolution media was used for the original recording, it must be downsampled, bit-mapped, or variously translated down to the 44.1K/16-bit specs of the final CD. Now if this were a 96K/24-bit DVD we would surely hear even more of the super-resolution 176.4I/24-bit original audio files which recording engineer Keith O. Johnson recorded in February of this year with the Kansas City Symphony in Independence, Missouri. It is not, but the mixdown has been handled beautifully and the added resolution of the HDCD codec (if you have a decoder built into your player, preamp or receiver) does enhance transparency and dynamic range.
At first the pairing of Sullivan and Sibelius on the same CD seems rather odd – I don’t think it’s been done before. But then as one reads the note booklet about the similarities and contrasts between the two very different composers’ approach to the music for Shakespeare’s play, it all begins to make sense. Sullivan’s music comes from early in his career, prior to his partnership with Gilbert. But it has a similar mid-Victorian, very English style to it. The music of Mendelssohn was something of an influence on both composers. The suite of Tempest music from Sullivan has seven sections; some are just preludes to a portion of the play, rather than depicting specific characters.
Sibelius wrote a Prelude and 35 separate episodes for the Tempest. He selected some of the episodes in a different order to make up the two suites for concert presentation. Sibelius was a fine orchestrator and must have enjoyed the greater tools at his disposal with the symphony orchestra vs. the small ensemble that played the incidental music in the theater. He could emphasize the ethereal nature of some of the music, for example. It is most interesting to compare Sibelius’ Dance of the Nymphs with Sullivan’s Dance of Nymphs and Reapers – they both will remind one of Mendelssohn, but still sound like their very individual composers. Sibelius’ music for the shipwreck and storm is almost Wagnerian. The Kansas City players sound the equal of one of the Top Five U.S. Orchestras, and Reference Recordings has presented them in the best possible two-channel sonics that could be impressed onto a CD. The packaging is also very classy. Nice also to see a rare new recording of a U.S. orchestra made in the U.S. by a U.S. record label!
– John Sunier